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Maybe Civilian Trials Are Better After All

The Ft. Hood massacre took place about three and a half years ago, on November 5, 2009.  From that day to this, no one has doubted the identity of the shooter, Maj. Nidal Hasan.  Nor has anyone doubted that he acted intentionally.  

Apparently seeing the virtues of martyrdom, or at least of 79 virgins or whatever the going rate is these days, Maj. Hasan has tried to plead guilty.

Sorry, no dice.  If you did it, and you want to admit (or proclaim) it, the Army, which is handling the prosecution, won't allow it, so says this article.   Indeed, the poor guy seems to be blocked from pleading guilty to anything.

What kind of nonsense is this?  Yes, we want to be sure before we execute  --  sure we have the right guy, and sure that the ultimate punishment is warranted in all the circumstances.  But we already know we have the right guy, and the circumstances will be thoroughly examined at the penalty phase in any event.  There is no such thing as a mandatory death penalty in American law.

So what gives?  What gives is that our country has become so tentative, so defensive, so morally obtuse and frankly so silly that we have litigated to the hilt whether Maj. Hasan can keep his beard, but are flatly unwilling to accept his legal admission that he killed 13 people, an admission the entire planet knows is true. This is going on four years after the event, mind you, in which any mental problems (other than hate) the good Major might have could have been thoroughly examined.



Prohibitions on pleading guilty in capital cases have been around for a long time, and they never have made any sense to me.

Certainly in a capital case we want to be extra careful that a guilty plea is informed, voluntary, and has a factual basis. That can be done without the waste of going through a full trial to prove facts neither party disputes.

All the concerns you note are absolutely legitimate, but have long since been taken care of here, to the satisfaction of any rational person.

1. Informed -- Maj. Hasan has had the benefit of counsel (two of them, if I'm not mistaken) for over three years. He's probably more informed about the death penalty than I am.

2. Voluntary -- The man is not only a college grad, he's a doctor (a psychiatrist). And there is no evidence anything he's done, on the day of the killings or since, was involuntary. He certainly did a good job of fighting all this time to keep his beard. But he can't enter a voluntary plea?

3. Factual basis -- It's impossible to imagine a murder better documented, or that has more witnesses, than the one (ones, actually) Hasan committed.

This is a case in which the death penalty ought to be carried out within a year of the crime. The only relevant contested issue is whether he's sane. If we had a serious system, it would not take anywhere close to a year to determine that.

The problem is not Major Hasan's sanity. The problem is OUR sanity.

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