KILLEEN, Texas -- Nearly four years after going on a deadly shooting rampage at the Fort Hood Army base here in 2009, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan told a jury of senior Army officers Tuesday that "the evidence will clearly show that I am the shooter."
In an opening statement that took little more than a minute, Maj. Hasan, seated and speaking quietly, said there was death and destruction on both sides, but that the evidence presented by the prosecution would show only one side.
He described himself as being on the wrong side of a war against Islam, and seemed close to offering an apology when he said, "We, the mujahideen, are imperfect Muslims." He added, "I apologize for any mistakes I've made in this endeavor."
His statement followed an hourlong statement by Col. Steve Hendricks, one of the Army prosecutors, who presented a dramatic retelling of the rampage and how it unfolded. He told the court that Maj. Hasan methodically went about targeting his victims with a handgun outfitted with two laser sights.
Maj. Hasan, 42, an Army psychiatrist and a U.S.-born Muslim of Palestinian descent, is being tried in a courtroom just a few miles from the medical processing center that was the rampage scene, one of the deadliest mass shootings at a U.S. military base.
Three weeks before he was to deploy to Afghanistan, Maj. Hasan opened fire inside the Soldier Readiness Processing Center on Nov. 5, 2009, shooting unarmed soldiers and commissioned officers as they tried to hide under desks and tables. His assault left 13 dead and more than 30 others wounded. He wounded at least two by shooting them in the back as they tried to flee the building or take cover.
Maj. Hasan, who has chosen to act as his own lawyer, gave his opening statement to the judge and to the jury of 13 officers as he sat in a wheelchair. He is paralyzed from the waist down after being shot four times by responding police officers. His long-delayed court-martial, which is under tight security, is expected to last several weeks.
Maj. Hasan has been charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder. If convicted, he could become the first U.S. soldier in 52 years to be sent to death row and executed at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. The last death sentence was carried out there in April 1961, with the hanging of John A. Bennett, an Army private convicted of the rape and attempted murder of an 11-year-old girl.
In addressing the court at the opening of his trial, Maj. Hasan became the only defendant in recent history to represent himself in a military capital-punishment case. He took on this role after deciding to release his court-appointed lawyers from the Army Trial Defense Service, setting up a legal mismatch with the highly trained prosecution.
Maj. Hasan appeared in camouflage fatigues and the beard he persuaded the court to allow. Although he has a master's degree in public health, he has no formal legal training.
His adversaries were three clean-shaven Army prosecutors in their dark formal uniforms. They were led by Col. Michael Mulligan, one of the Army's most aggressive and skillful lawyers.
Maj. Hasan has acknowledged being the gunman, and for months has suggested in statements in and outside the court that he saw himself as a suicide bomber striking an enemy that he believed was waging an illegal and immoral war on Islam. He told the judge previously that he carried out the attack to protect Taliban leaders from U.S. soldiers deploying to Afghanistan.
In a 2011 jailhouse statement given to Al-Jazeera, a satellite broadcasting network based in Qatar, he pledged allegiance to the Islamic fighters known as mujahideen and thanked them for "serving as role models on how Muslims should stand up against tyranny and aggression." In addition, he exchanged emails before the attack with Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical cleric who supported violent jihad and who was killed in 2011 in a CIA drone strike in Yemen.
Despite the evidence of Maj. Hasan's self-radicalization, Army prosecutors do not have to prove that he was a homegrown terrorist. He faces not terrorism, but murder charges, and prosecutors have to prove only that he acted with intent and premeditation.
Prosecutors could have incorporated federal terrorism charges into the case, but chose not to. Experts in military law said such a move would have unnecessarily complicated the case, because no U.S. soldier has been prosecuted for terrorism offenses.
Those injured in the shooting have complained that because of the Pentagon's depiction of the attack, they have been denied combat-related benefits and Purple Hearts.