Nidal Hasan Trial: Death Penalty Would Be a Win For the Enemy

A jury has finally been selected for the trial of Nidal Hasan, charged with 13 counts of murder and 32 counts of attempted murder in the 2009 Fort Hood shooting. Barring some unforeseen technicality, a slew of "guilty" verdicts seems to be inevitable.

Realistically speaking, the next question is, "Should Hasan be put to death?"

Capital punishment invokes a host of (sometimes conflicting) moral considerations: Is there any crime for which someone deserves death? Is death the only way to incapacitate a criminal? Is death the best way to deter other potential criminals? Do even the the worst offenders deserve a chance at rehabilitation and redemption? Does implementing the death penalty make the government as cruel as the criminal?

In the case of Hasan, though, there are still more factors at play. He was a member of the U.S. Army at the time that he turned his weapon on fellow soldiers, so his attack at Fort Hood could be described as treason (even if that's not a charge being leveled against him). And, given Hasan's own claims that he was motivated by Islamic allegiance, it could be described as terrorism, as well (even if that's also not a charge being leveled against him — it has instead been classified as "workplace violence"). In a sense, Hasan is both a traitor to the U.S. and a POW in the ongoing War on Terror.

But should he be executed? Hasan isn't a high-ranking member in the forces of militant Islam, like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, so it's not likely that hanging on to him will gain us any valuable information or intelligence. Similarly, his low-level status means executing him — making him a "martyr" — won't inspire terrorists already dedicated to attacking the U.S. (especially since Osama Bin Laden, killed by U.S. forces just two years ago, already serves as that rallying point).

Certainly, I can understand the case for execution: Hasan doesn't deserve to live another day given what he's done. Why should he live longer than his victims? And why should U.S. taxpayers have to support him for what could be another four decades or more of natural life?

But there's a good case to be made to let him live, too: Hasan is paralyzed from the waist down, and he will never again pose a threat to anyone. Imprisonment will deprive him of being the martyr he might hope to be. He'll receive a life sentence and spend years watching the U.S. move further and further away from whatever Islamist ideals he thought he was furthering. And militant Muslims will watch as the U.S. treats Hasan magnanimously, giving him a fair trial and medical care (as we've already done with John Walker Lindh).

I don't think there's any easy resolution to this debate, but maybe it doesn't matter much whether Hasan is put to death. I don't blame people for wanting to champion one outcome over the other, but we should recognize that the process itself represents a victory. In spite of the despicable things he's done, the U.S. isn't giving in to the understandable temptation to drag Hasan to a quick death and be done with him. Instead, he's being given every chance to explain and defend himself for his crimes, to detail the allegedly thoughtful, spiritual, and religious reasons he thinks he had for opening fire on service members getting medical processing for deployments to Iraq or Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, on July 5, 2012, a 25-year-old women's rights activist, Fareeda Kokikhel Afridi, was gunned down near Peshawar, Pakistan, apparently by members of the Taliban. On October 9, 2012, a 15-year-old girl, Malala Yousafzai, was shot in the head by the Taliban (fortunately, she survived) because she criticized their opposition to education for women. And on June 10 of this year, Islamic militants in Aleppo, Syria, beat and then killed a 14-year-old boy for insulting the prophet Muhammad. (The boy's name? "Mohammed.")

Whether we put Hasan to death or let him live out his natural life in prison, we've already treated him according to a far more humane and just standard than what his allies support. On that front, we've already won.