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Court Weighs Whether Fort Hood Shooting Suspect Should Be Forcibly Shaved

During a hearing in front of a military appeals court, a panel of judges considered arguments on whether Fort Hood shooting suspect Maj. Nidal Hassan should be forcibly shaved.

Hassan's murder trial has been put on hold while the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces decides on what to do about Hasan's beard. Hasan is charged with killing 13 people and wounding more than two dozen others in a shooting spree in November of 2009 at the Fort Hood Army post.

Lawyers for military judge Col. Gregory Gross made the argument that forced shavings are not unusual in the military.

"Army regulations expressly authorize nonconsensual haircutting and face-shaving for recalcitrant incarcerated soldiers. ... If the judge has authority to bind and gag a disruptive accused (soldier), then certainly he has authority to forcibly shave (Hasan)," the lawyers wrote according to the AP.

The Austin American Statesman says the lawyers also argued that allowing Hasan to keep his beard would be a direct challenge to Gross' authority. The Statesman adds:

"Hasan began growing the beard two months ago in violation of military rules that require soldiers to be clean-shaven. Hasan, who is Muslim, cited freedom of religion laws, and his lawyers argued that the Army psychiatrist has had a premonition of imminent death and wants to have a beard when he dies. Top Army officials have rejected Hasan's request for a religious exemption to grow the beard, although they have granted beard exemptions to six other soldiers in recent years.

"'Permitting (Hasan) to maintain his beard would signal to every subordinate and every sitting accused that it is acceptable to be in non-compliance with judicial orders and Army regulations,' military appellate attorneys representing Gross wrote."

According to The Los Angeles Times, Hasan's lawyers said that Hasan believes dying without a beard is a sin and he fears his death is imminent.

The Times adds that one court already sided with Hasan. That decision was appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, which is comprised of four civilian judges appointed by the president, and is the highest court in the military system.

It's unclear when that court will issue an opinion.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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