Attorney says Fort Hood suspect not yet been questioned

Retired Col. John Galligan was in the U.S. Army for 30 years.
Retired Col. John Galligan was in the U.S. Army for 30 years. (Richard Matthews/associated Press)
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By Mary Pat Flaherty and William Booth
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, November 11, 2009

BELTON, TEX. -- The lawyer hired to represent Army Maj. Nidal M. Hasan, the alleged gunman in the rampage at Fort Hood, said that his client has not yet been questioned by military or federal authorities and that he will advise him not to speak with investigators.

The attorney, retired Col. John P. Galligan, met with Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, on Monday night in his guarded hospital room at Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. Galligan said Hasan was able to hold a lucid conversation, though he was medicated for pain from his wounds. Hasan was shot several times.

Galligan would not discuss anything Hasan said. "It was a very brief conversation, just 30 minutes, to simply introduce ourselves, and then we left to let him get some rest," Galligan said in an interview at his offices in Belton, 20 miles from Fort Hood. Hasan also agreed to keep his military-appointed attorney, Maj. Christopher Martin.

Galligan, 60, has been involved in high-profile cases before. He defended an Army military policeman charged in the 2002 maiming death of a taxi driver who had been detained in Afghanistan. The jury in that case did not send the defendant to prison; he was honorably discharged. The case was the centerpiece of the 2007 documentary "Taxi to the Dark Side," in which Galligan appears and which won an Oscar.

Before retiring in 2001, Galligan had served in the Army for 30 years in various capacities, as a judge, prosecutor and defense attorney.

He attended Georgetown University, with Bill Clinton as a classmate, before joining the Army in 1971. Born on Fort Bliss in El Paso, he is the son of a career officer and lived on posts in Canada, Formosa (now known as Taiwan) and Turkey. He unsuccessfully ran as a Republican for county judge.

William Cassara, a former Army captain and lawyer who is now in private practice in Augusta, Ga., said Galligan was reputed to be "stern but reasonable" while on the bench. Galligan did not display a "pro- or anti-military" bias, Cassara said.

"I don't envy him" on the Fort Hood case, said Cassara, noting not only the difficulty of the case, but also the challenge of coping with pretrial publicity.

Officials have said they intend to try Hasan in a military court. In the interview, Galligan said he has faith in the system.

"You have heard some people disparage military tribunals as kangaroo courts, that they are commander-driven, but if applied correctly, the uniform code of military justice is a wonderful thing that can produce a fair, impartial and just result -- if you stick to your guns," Galligan said.

Several civilian lawyers who specialize in defending military clients said the Fort Hood shooting would probably be a death-penalty case.

Military courts have sentenced defendants to death in past cases, but it is rare. The last execution was the 1961 hanging of an Army private convicted of raping and attempting to kill an 11-year-old Austrian girl. Five military service members are currently on death row at Camp Leavenworth, Kan., according to an Army spokesman.

Unlike grand jury cases in civil court, military proceedings to lay out preliminary evidence are conducted in public. Military defendants also are not permitted to plead guilty in a capital case.

Guy Womack, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel who practices military law in Houston, said that if Hasan is charged in the Fort Hood case as the shooter, "the strongest defense would be for him to say he has suffered post-traumatic stress from getting ready to deploy and years of debriefing soldiers who have been there as part of his work."

Another defense strategy, said military lawyer Jeffrey G. Meeks of Carlsbad, Calif., would be to raise the issue of "unlawful command influence," a suggestion that during the investigation or prosecution a commanding officer allowed his own conclusions or opinions to influence how his subordinates pursue a case.

"And you would have to play on mental capacity and the ability to understand the nature and wrongfulness of his conduct," Meeks said. An insanity defense is allowed in military courts.

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