Nidal Hasan, the US Army psychiatrist accused of the Fort Hood shootings, claims forcibly shaving him would violate his religious freedom (AP)
A judge has the authority to order a US Army psychiatrist accused of the 2009 Fort Hood shooting rampage to be forcibly shaved before his murder trial, military lawyers have told an appeals court.
The lawyers, in a document filed on behalf of Colonel Gregory Gross, contend that forcibly shaving Major Nidal Hasan would not violate the American-born Muslim's religious freedom and said it is similar to "and no more invasive than" a judge's right to restrain a defendant who is disruptive during a court martial.
"Forced shaving is not a novel concept in the military," military lawyers said in the judge's response filed with the US Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, "Army regulations expressly authorise non-consensual haircutting and face-shaving for recalcitrant incarcerated soldiers."
The appeals court last week delayed Hasan's court martial, which had been set to start earlier this week with jury selection, while it considers his appeal against being forcibly shaved. Now that the judge has responded, the court can make a decision or choose to hear oral arguments in the case first.
Hasan has grown a beard apparently to express his Muslim faith. His defence lawyers have said he will not shave since he has had a premonition that his death is imminent and he does not want to die without a beard because he believes not having one is a sin.
Hasan faces the death penalty or life in prison without parole if convicted in the November 2009 attack on the Texas Army post that killed 13 people and wounded more than two dozen others.
Col Gross has banned Hasan from courtroom hearings since he first showed up in court in June with a beard, letting him watch the proceedings on a closed-circuit television in a nearby room.
But Col Gross said Hasan will be forcibly shaved before the trial if he does not shave himself. The judge has said he wants Hasan in the courtroom during the court-martial to prevent a possible appeal on the issue if he is convicted.
The government does not believe that Hasan's beard is based on a sincerely held religious belief, prosecutors have said.
Even so, Col Gross' response also told the appeals court that his order does not violate Hasan's religious freedoms. Army rules prohibit beards, and those who join the military have agreed to give up certain personal interests over the needs of the service, according to the document.