Probably no one on the planet was surprised when Nidal Hasan, the former U.S. Army major who killed 13 people and wounded 29 others in a shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Texas, in November 2009, was found guilty on Friday of all the charges against him. The question now is whether or not Hasan should be executed for his crimes, a penalty for which he is eligible under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Indeed, Hasan, according to the defense lawyers that he did not allow to represent him, wanted to be sentenced to death, to become a martyr for the warped interpretation of Islam to which he adhered.
Although support for capital punishment in the U.S. has slowly declined from a peak of 80% in 1994, according to Gallup, 63% of those surveyed in December 2012 were “in favor of the death penalty for a person convicted of murder.” So if Hasan is sentenced to death, it’s fair to assume that the sentence will be a popular one with most of the American public. But justice in America is not about what is popular among the American public (or, at least, it’s not supposed to be about popularity — it’s not always easy for a jury to be impartial when their case has become a media circus).
The task now before the jury (composed of military officers) in the Hasan case is to decide how to best serve justice to a man who murdered 12 of their fellow soldiers and a civilian, without leading to unintended consequences. Given the high-profile nature of the case and its relationship to America’s fight against Islamist terrorism, the jurors have the unenviable task of balancing the need for a just punishment with the need for defending America’s image in the world. It would be wise of them to bear in mind just what might result from their choice.
While a desire for revenge is certainly understandable, especially in a case like this, if the military court that convicted Hasan sentences him to death, they will be playing into a mass murderer’s hands. The minute a death sentence is announced, violent Islamists around the world will celebrate, because their enemy will have given them a gift. Hasan will become a propaganda piece and recruiting tool for the cause of international jihad, a man terrorist recruiters will depict as a hero in the struggle against the evil Americans when they try to bring impressionable young men into their movement. He will become just what he wanted to become: a martyr.
Let us hope that a murderer of U.S. soldiers does not get what he wants. Let us hope instead that Hasan spends the rest of his life in a prison cell, living forever with what he has done, and perhaps even comes to regret his choice. If this is what happens, Americans will be able to tell the world that their system of justice did not fall into a trap laid for it by one of its enemies.