The 13 military officers of the jury at Fort Hood sentenced Nidal Hasan to death for 13 counts of murder, unless you go by the grief-struck math of one victim’s father.
Pvt. Francheska Velez had just happily told another solider that she was nine weeks pregnant when she suddenly found herself facing Hasan and his gun on that November day in 2009.
“Please don’t, please don’t!” she had pleaded.
She was newly returned from serving in Iraq as a 21-year-old EOD, an explosive-ordinance technician, one of those brave souls immortalized in the movie The Hurt Locker who make that loneliest of walks to dismantle a bomb while everybody else hurries the other way toward safety. And even as Hasan prepared to fire, her thought was not of herself but of the life that had so miraculously begun to form in her after a tour of being ever ready to face sudden death.
The life-saving EOD was now a life-making mom-to-be.
“My baby! My baby!” she cried.
Hasan proceeded to pull the trigger with the most ungodly indifference. A witness at the trial testified that Velez had gone into what he termed a fetal position, curling as if she were herself in the womb as she sought to protect her child. Her father spoke of the baby during the sentencing hearing.
“That man did not just kill 13, he killed 15,” Juan Velez told the court in Spanish. “He killed my grandson and myself.”
He was saying that a kind of living death had come to him with the loss.
“It hurt me to the bottom of my soul.”
The baby could not legally be counted as a 14th murder victim because it had never drawn an independent breath. And those who believe in a woman’s right to choose say nine weeks is within the time she can decide to terminate a pregnancy without being accused of taking a life. But a woman also has the right to declare what is growing inside her to be a life more important than her own, in Francheska Velez’s words, “My baby!”
When one of the witnesses at the trial, Sgt. 1st Class Maria Guerra, recounted the EOD mom-to-be’s final, desperate cry, Hasan made his first and only objection while serving as his own lawyer.
“Would you remind Sgt. 1st Class Guerra that she’s under oath?” Hasan asked the judge.
Perhaps Hasan was driven to raise this single objection because even if he has not a shred of humanity remaining he might understand that others would see the monstrous unholiness in going in a single moment from shouting “Allahu Akbar!” to murdering a woman who is screaming, “My baby! My baby!”
As Hasan becomes the fifth service member on death row and perhaps the first to be executed in a half-century, we are coming to the 12th anniversary of 9/11. Families who continue to grieve the loss of loved ones again gather at the memorial pools that mark the footprints of the fallen twin towers. There is an additional phrase inscribed next to the names of 11 women among the dead listed there.
“…and her unborn child.”
Francheska Velez makes it 12 moms-to-be who stand as the truth about an ideology that speaks of martyrs being rewarded with virgins in paradise for murdering in the name of their God.
Like the 9/11 hijackers, Hasan has spoken of himself as a “soldier of Allah” ready for martyrdom. The lead prosecutor in the Fort Hood case, Michael Mulligan, called a monster a monster while asking for the death penalty.
“He is not now and never will be a martyr,” Mulligan said of Hasan. “He is a criminal. He is a cold-blooded murderer.”
Unlike in a civilian court, a military death sentence cannot be carried out until the president signs an order. Obama’s words on capital punishment back in 2004 are worth recalling.
“I believe that the death penalty is appropriate in certain circumstances,” Obama said. “There are extraordinarily heinous crimes, terrorism, the harm of children, in which it may be appropriate.”
Obama, being Obama, said extreme care must be taken before imposing the ultimate sanction. But he then added, “We have to have this ultimate sanction for certain circumstances in which the entire community says, ‘This is beyond the pale.’”
Private Velez’s baby would now be 3.