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US Army murder suspect loses beard appeal
Judges rule that Nidal Hasan, suspected of killing 13 at Fort Hood, can have his beard forcibly shaved off before trial.
Last Modified: 19 Oct 2012 01:41
Hasan is accused of opening fire on November 5, 2009, at a deployment centre at Fort Hood, killing 13 [Reuters]

US Army appeals court ruled that the suspect in the Fort Hood shooting that killed 13 people can have his beard forcibly shaved off before his murder trial.

The US Army Court of Criminal Appeals on Thursday upheld the military trial judge's decision to order Maj. Nidal Hasan to appear in court clean shaven or be forcibly shaved, according to a release from Fort Hood.

The opinion came on the heels of last week's hearing at Fort Belvoir in Virginia in which the court heard arguments from both sides.

Hasan, who did not attend the hearing, has said he grew a beard because his Muslim faith requires it, despite the Army's ban on beards. A few exceptions have been made for religious reasons.

The appeals court also ruled that Col. Gregory Gross, the trial judge, properly found that the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act does not give Hasan the right to have a beard while in uniform during his trial.

The court specifically upheld Gross' previous ruling that Hasan did not prove that his beard was an expression of a sincerely held religious belief. The appeals court said that even if Hasan did grow a beard for a sincere religious reason, compelling government interests justified Gross' order requiring Hasan to comply with Army grooming standards.

The appeals court also upheld six contempt of court findings against Hasan, starting about a month after he showed up in court in June with a beard. Gross fined him $1,000 for each instance.

Hasan's attorneys have said they will appeal the ruling to the US Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, which means Hasan's court-martial remains on hold.

Death penalty

Hasan, 42, faces the death penalty if convicted in the 2009 attack that killed 13 and wounded more than two dozen others on the Texas Army post, about 201 kilometres southwest of Fort Worth.

The Army has specific guidelines on forced shaving. A team of five military police officers restrains the inmate "with the reasonable force necessary",' and a medical professional is on hand in case of injuries.

The shaving must be done with electric clippers and must be videotaped, according to Army rules.

Hasan would not be the first military defendant forcibly shaved. The Army has done it to five inmates since 2005, including one person who was forcibly shaved twice, according to the Army's Office of the Chief of Staff.

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