The issue of whether Maj. Nidal Hasan, charged with 13 counts of murder, should shave his beard resulted in a judge's removal.
The highest military appellate court ordered on Monday the removal of the judge overseeing the trial of Nidal Hasan, an Army psychiatrist charged with killing 13 people at the Fort Hood Army base in 2009.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces wrote in an opinion that Col. Gregory Gross should be removed for the appearance of bias -- in part because he demanded that Hasan's beard be shaved.
“The command, and not the military judge, has the primary responsibility for the enforcement of grooming standards,” the court wrote in a 10-page opinion. “A military judge’s contempt authority is directed toward control of the courtroom. Although the military judge here stated that (Hasan’s) beard was a ‘disruption,’ there was insufficient evidence on this record to demonstration that (his) beard materially interfered with the proceedings.”
Further, the opinion stated, the judge and his family were present at Fort Hood on the day of the shootings.
“While this fact alone is not disqualifying, when viewed in light of the factors identified above, an objective observer might reasonably question the military judge’s impartiality,” the opinion read.
Army grooming standards prohibit beards but allow for religious exceptions. Judge Gross had denied Hasan's request for such an exception. He found that Hasan's claims of religious sincerity did not outweigh prosecutor's arguments that Hasan grew the beard just before his August trial date so witnesses wouldn't be able to identify him in court.
Hasan, 42, faces the death penalty or life in prison without parole if convicted in the Nov. 5, 2009, attack at the Army post about 130 miles southwest of Dallas. In addition to those killed, 29 were wounded. His trial had been placed on hold pending the issue of whether he must shave his beard.
His lawyers argued that he wears a beard because of he is devoutly Muslim and that requiring him to shave it would amount to religious discrimination.
Monday’s court opinion does not resolve the issue of his beard, however: “Should the next military judge find it necessary to address (his) beard, such issues should be addressed and litigated anew.”
A new judge has not been assigned to the case.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.
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