(Adds quotes from judge and witness testimony)
By Karen Brooks and Lisa Maria Garza
FORT HOOD, Texas, Aug 8 (Reuters) - The judge in the court-martial of a U.S. Army psychiatrist who admitted shooting dozens of soldiers on a Texas base denied a request by his standby lawyers to reduce their role, ordering them on Thursday to continue assisting Major Nidal Hasan in defending himself.
The three lawyers had asked military Judge Colonel Tara Osborn to agree to them taking a lesser role after they objected on Wednesday to what they contended was Hasan actively seeking the death penalty and that the lawyers' code of ethics prevented them from assisting. Hasan disputed the assertion.
Osborn turned them down, saying the U.S. Constitution allowed Hasan to the right to defend himself and determine his legal strategy. She called the rift "nothing more than their disagreement with Major Hasan's trial strategy."
Hasan, a U.S.-born Muslim, admits he killed 13 unarmed soldiers and wounded more than 30 others at the Fort Hood, Texas U.S. Army base in November 2009. He told the court he "switched sides" in what he called a U.S. war on Islam.
Military police were called to end his rampage because base policy calls for military personnel to be unarmed on base. Hasan was paralyzed from the waist down after a shootout with police and he speaks quietly in court from a wheelchair.
He could receive the death penalty if all 13 officers on the jury find him guilty of premeditated murder, possibly making him the first U.S. soldier executed by the military since 1961.
Standby defense lawyer Lieutenant Colonel Kris Poppe, who leads the team making sure Hasan's case is conducted properly, told the court on Wednesday he believed Hasan was actively a death sentence and raised objections on ethical grounds.
But the judge told Poppe, "I'm going to make it easy for you. I give you an order to perform these duties as standby counsel, and that relieves you of any ethical liability."
"If I'm wrong, which I'm not, then you have no ethical liability because you would be acting pursuant to a specified order of this court."
Poppe continued to object to the judge's ruling, describing what he was asked to do as "morally repugnant."
"This is not about saving my license, this is not about protecting my ability to practice professionally in the future," Poppe said. "This is about what you are requiring me to do today, which you are saying I am to assist this man in achieving his goal, which we have identified as achieving the death sentence."
Hasan opened fire on base on Nov. 5, 2009, days before he was to be deployed to Afghanistan.
A review by a former FBI director found Hasan had exchanged emails with Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born cleric linked to al Qaeda's Yemen-based wing. Awlaki was killed in a U.S. drone strike in 2011.
Prosecutors opted against bringing terrorism charges, saying it would prejudice the trial.
Among the witnesses was retired Major Laura Suttinger, who told the court-martial on Thursday she heard the shooting and rushed to a victim who had been shot in the leg.
"There was intermittent gunfire, there were people screaming," Suttinger testified. "There was a short period of silence, and that's when somebody said 'Get out of here.'"
After taking cover, she was able to survey the bloody scene.
"There were bodies on the floor," she said. "There was extensive blood all over the place." (Additional reporting by Jana J. Pruet; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Grant McCool)