FORT BELVOIR, Va. -- An Army appeals court on Thursday questioned whether a military judge exceeded his authority in ordering the suspect in the 2009 shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Texas, to remove his beard or be forcibly shaved.
Judges on the U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals in northern Virginia also delved into a claim by Maj. Nidal Hasan's lawyers that the military judge who issued the order is biased and should be replaced. The U.S.-born Muslim psychiatrist claims that he grew his beard for religious reasons.
Maj. Hasan's murder trial in Texas is on hold while his lawyers pursue the appeal. Maj. Hasan, 42, faces the death penalty or life in prison without parole if convicted in the Nov. 5, 2009, attack that killed 13 people and wounded more than two dozen others at the Army post about 130 miles southwest of Dallas.
Maj. Hasan's attorneys also want the appeals court to overturn six contempt-of-court rulings that Col. Gregory Gross issued against Maj. Hasan for having a beard at pretrial hearings this past summer, when he first showed up in court with facial hair.
Army grooming standards prohibit beards but allow for religious exceptions. Col. Gross denied Maj. Hasan's request for such an exception. He found that Maj. Hasan's claims of religious sincerity did not outweigh prosecutor's arguments that Maj. Hasan grew the beard just before his August trial date so witnesses wouldn't be able to identify him in court.