FORT HOOD, Texas (AP) — The Army psychiatrist charged in the deadly Fort Hood shooting rampage told a judge Thursday that he grew a beard because his Muslim faith requires it, not as a show of disrespect.
Speaking in court for the first time since showing up with a beard in violation of Army regulations in June, Maj. Nidal Hasan responded to Col. Gregory Gross when the judge asked why he had the beard.
"In the name of almighty Allah, I am a Muslim," Hasan said. "I believe my religion requires me to wear a beard."
The pretrial hearing was the first since a military appeals court stopped proceedings Aug. 15 to consider the dispute over Hasan's beard less than a week before his court-martial was to begin. Gross held Hasan in contempt of court and fined him $1,000 for a sixth time Thursday, and again sent him to a nearby room to watch the rest of the proceedings on closed-circuit television.
"I am not trying to disrespect your authority as a judge," Hasan said before his latest removal from the courtroom.
"When I stand before God, I am individually responsible for my actions," he said, apparently referring to the beard.
Hasan faces the death penalty if convicted in the November 2009 attack that killed 13 and wounded more than two dozen others on the Texas Army post.
Gross, who has said he would order Hasan to be forcibly shaved before the trial if he did not get rid of the beard himself, said Thursday that he will order a forcible shaving next week. That will delay the case again because Hasan's attorneys can appeal before a decision is made on whether he'll be forcibly shaved, Gross said.
Earlier this week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces ruled that Hasan's appeal was premature because Gross has not issued a definitive order for Hasan to be forcibly shaved. The court said that if Gross issues that order, he must address several issues, including whether the Religious Freedom Restoration Act applies in the court-martial. Some witnesses for prosecutors and defense attorneys may testify at another pretrial hearing at Fort Hood next week to address those issues.
Hasan's attorneys have argued that forcing him to shave would violate his religious freedoms. They also have said Hasan wouldn't shave because he had a premonition that his death is imminent, and doesn't want to die beardless because he believes not having one is a sin.
According to military regulations, soldiers who disobey orders to be clean-shaven can be forcibly shaved.
Gross has said he wants Hasan in the courtroom during the court-martial to prevent a possible appeal over the beard if Hasan is convicted.
Hasan is paralyzed from the waist down after being shot by police on the day of the rampage, but appears to have full use of his arms.
Prosecutors have said they don't believe that religion is Hasan's motive, noting he was clean-shaven at the time of the shootings.