By Don Bolding
FORT HOOD, Texas (Reuters) - Army psychiatrist Major Nidal Hasan cannot argue at trial that he was defending the Afghan Taliban when he opened fire in a 2009 shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Texas, that killed 13 people, a military judge ruled on Friday.
"There was no evidence that there was any immediate threat to others from your fellow soldiers," Colonel Tara Osborn said, denying Hasan's request to use the defense as he represents himself at his upcoming trial on 13 counts of first-degree murder.
Hasan, a 42-year-old U.S.-born Muslim, is accused of killing 13 people and wounding 32 others in an attack on soldiers at a readiness facility where many of those shot were preparing to deploy to Iraq or Afghanistan.
Fort Hood was a major deployment point for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Hasan himself had been preparing to leave for Afghanistan with a unit assigned to help soldiers deal with mental issues.
"I object," Hasan said when the judge ruled that he could not use his chosen defense argument that he was justified in opening fire on soldiers because he was protecting the Taliban in Afghanistan.
After the hearing, Geoffrey Corn, an expert on military law at the South Texas College of Law in Houston, said Hasan's claim was a non starter.
"I can't see any conceivable set of facts that would raise this defense," Corn said.
Hasan has also asked Osborn to delay the court martial by three months to allow him to prepare a new defense strategy and add to the witness lists. Osborn could rule on that request at a hearing scheduled for Tuesday.
Earlier this month, Hasan was granted the right to represent himself at trial. The selection of a jury from a group of Army officers had been expected to begin two weeks ago, but was delayed while Osborn considered the "defense of others" argument and other issues. Opening statements are scheduled for July 1.
Hasan could face the death penalty if found guilty. He was shot by civilian base police during the attack and left paralyzed from the chest down.
Three military lawyers appointed to serve as standby counsel for Hasan at the trial while he leads his own defense have been trying to determine what their role would be in the proceedings.
The legal team, which he fired, has argued that their role is to be prepared to step back in as his defense attorneys if necessary and to answer his questions on points of law, but not to provide specific legal advice.
Osborn has set a goal of getting the trial schedule back on track after lengthy delays, some due to a dispute over whether Hasan should be allowed to wear a beard in the courtroom in violation of U.S. Army grooming regulations. She set that issue aside.
(Additional reporting by Jim Forsyth in San Antonio; Writing by David Bailey; Editing by Cynthia Johnston)