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FORT HOOD, Texas (Reuters) – Accused Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan said on Tuesday that war is an ugly thing with death and devastation on both sides, in a brief opening statement at his long-awaited trial for opening fire at a Texas base in 2009 and killing 13 U.S. soldiers.
Hasan, who was paralyzed from the chest down and is confined to a wheelchair after being shot by Fort Hood base police who ended his rampage, is representing himself at the court-martial.
“Witnesses will testify that war is an ugly thing. Death, destruction and devastation are felt from both sides, from friend and foe. Evidence from this trial will only show one side. I was on the wrong side but I switched sides,” Hasan, an American-born Muslim, said in a roughly two minute-long opening statement.
Hasan, 42, who carried out the shooting on November 5, 2009, just days before he was to be deployed to Afghanistan, has said he shot the soldiers to try to stop what he has called a U.S. war on Islam. He killed 13 soldiers and wounded 32 others.
Prosecutors took about an hour to lay out their case against Hasan, saying that he intended to kill indiscriminately.
“Evidence will show that Hasan didn’t want to deploy and he possessed a jihad duty to kill as many soldiers as possible,” military prosecutor Colonel Steve Henricks said.
Hasan could be sentenced to death if convicted.
Hasan spoke very little during the opening statements and during testimony of the first witnesses at the trial on the sprawling military base between Dallas and Austin, Texas.
The first three witnesses were from a gun store near the base, where Hasan bought the pistol used in the shooting. The manager of “Gun’s Galore” store, David Cheadle, said he showed Hasan how to assemble the pistol while Hasan recorded him on video.
Frederick Brannen, a former sales clerk at the store, testified that he sold Hasan the gun.
When the weapon was presented as evidence, Hasan said: “Your honor, that is my weapon.”
Hasan was shot by base police. The soldiers were not armed because policy does not allow them to carry arms on base.
An Army psychiatrist at Fort Hood at the time of the shooting, Hasan has since apologized for being in the U.S. military and helping the U.S. response to the September 11, 2001 attacks. He has tried to renounce his U.S. citizenship.
A review by a former FBI director found Hasan had exchanged emails with Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born cleric linked to al Qaeda’s Yemen-based wing. Awlaki was killed in a U.S. drone strike.
The military judge for the court-martial, Colonel Tara Osborn, ruled on Friday that prosecutors may present evidence that Hasan was on the Internet in the days, and even hours, before the attack, searching terms such as “Taliban” and “jihad,” which some radical Islamists define as a holy war.
Hasan has said he plans to call only two witnesses at trial, according to Fort Hood officials. The witnesses were not identified.
Hasan may cross-examine any witness, including survivors of the attack.
He faces 13 charges of premeditated murder and 32 charges of attempted premeditated murder. The dead included 12 active duty soldiers and a retired chief warrant officer who worked as a civilian employee at the base.
The jury of 13 Army officers includes nine colonels, three lieutenant colonels and a major.
The trial had been delayed repeatedly over procedural issues, such as whether he would be allowed to keep a beard that violates military grooming regulations, which he has said he wears for religious reasons.
Hasan had sought to use a “defense of others” strategy at trial, arguing that his actions were taken to protect Muslims and the Taliban in Afghanistan from U.S. assaults. Osborn denied that request.
Osborn rejected Hasan’s offer to plead guilty in return for being spared the death penalty. A unanimous verdict of guilty is required for execution to be an option. The last execution carried out by the U.S. military was in 1961.
(Writing by Greg McCune; Editing by Claudia Parsons and Grant McCool)