Through hours of wrenching testimony, Ft. Hood psychiatrist Nidal Malik Hasan shows no emotion

By Ann Gerhart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 16, 2010; 6:10 AM

FORT HOOD, TEX. - Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan sits in a wheelchair every day and listens while, one by one, the wounded and traumatized offer their accounts of 10 minutes of terror. Some bow their heads and weep. Some glower.

Hasan, who is paralyzed from the chest down, stares straight at the witnesses as they describe how he stalked the room on Nov. 5, 2009, the laser sight of his pistol tracing red across their eyes before they felt the shot, smelled the blood, heard the cries.

He didn't show remorse on that day, the witnesses say. He doesn't show any remorse now. What he is thinking is unknowable.

Sometimes, over three days of testimony at a hearing to determine whether there is enough evidence to proceed with a court-martial, Hasan carefully twists the cap off a bottle of water and takes a sip. He writes notes occasionally in neat script, or doodles.

Rarely in court does he speak to his three attorneys. He never turns to glance at the widow who sits taking notes in the small seating area each day, nor to see the young Army wives who wipe their eyes as their husbands recite their awful stories, recounting how he allegedly killed 13 people and wounded 32 others that day - ". . . and then I just fell. . . . I knew my lung was filling up with blood . . . He slumped over and I couldn't get to him in time."

When Hasan is cold, he pulls his green fleece cap lower over his ears and fiddles with a green blanket draped around his neck. His desert combat boots are laced up over his useless feet. Once on Friday, when his legal team got up and started to walk off, he looked momentarily alarmed to be left alone at the defense table.

"Do you want to go out?" said the security officer who wheels Hasan, and Hasan said to his lawyer, "What do you want me to do?"

Hasan was shot three times. Several of those who have testified were shot several times. They all remain active soldiers according to the impartial guidelines of the U.S. Army. That is where their similarity ends.

While Hasan, 40, has remained implacable - low affect, his psychiatric colleagues might note - his accusers have been expressive.

Spec. Megan Martin kept her hands tensely folded in front of her, as she testified via video link from Kandahar on Friday. Asked to recount the nature of the fusillade of bullets that day, she untangled her fingers, then made a tight fist and pounded the table in steady rhythm. She said she dropped to the floor as soon as she realized the pop-pop-pop was not a drill, yet remained mesmerized as Hasan sprayed the room with bullets, quickly slipped out his magazine and reloaded.

"Sir, I couldn't look away. I laid absolutely still as I could because he was shooting everything that moved," Martin said slowly. "I couldn't stop watching. It was a nightmare that reoccurs every day."

Capt. Melissa Kale started out cheerily helpful but broke down in tears as she described how she tried but couldn't save the life of her friend Sgt. Amy Krueger, whose fleece jacket she had stuffed in her backpack when the morning chill wore off that first day they spent at Fort Hood, prior to their deployment.

"I tried to pull Sgt. Krueger with me," Kale sobbed, also via video from Kandahar. "She didn't move. I had to leave her there."

Kale and Martin are members of the combat stress control team that Hasan was assigned to join.

The psychiatrist told acquaintances he didn't want to deploy to Afghanistan, where he was to treat soldiers for the stress of combat, and in the days prior to the shooting, he gave away most of his possessions. On the day of the shooting, he was scheduled to get his final immunizations and paperwork to deploy, as were nearly all of those who were killed and wounded. Hasan stood up near a counter, witnesses have testified, shouted "Allahu Akbar!" and fired into a tight bank of 45 chairs, all filled by waiting soldiers.

The details at the hearing can be excruciating to hear, especially when the sounds of war invade the courtroom. Howitzers fired in training on the nearby practice range rattled the ceiling, and fighter jets streaking into the sky over Kandahar have punctuated the testimony from there.

But several of the 29 witnesses seem to have been waiting nearly a year to say, firmly, "Yes, sir," when the prosecutor poses a, by now, routine question: "Do you see the shooter in the courtroom today?"

Sgt. Logan Burnett, a mental-health specialist who was headed to Iraq and was shot twice more after he already had gone down, stood up from the witness table and slowly extended his right arm poker-straight, finger pointed.

"Nidal Hasan, right there," Burnett said. He glared, hard, and remained standing for several seconds.

The man in the wheelchair stared back.

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