The attorney who outraged the Guantanamo Bay military court hearing by insisting that all women there should cover their bodies has defended her demand, saying the al-Qaida members on trial had to “focus” on their case.
Cheryl Bormann turned up to Saturday’s hearing wearing a full-length hijab, even though she is not a Muslim, and called for other females in the courtroom to dress more “appropriately.”
After the hearing, Bormann insisted she had done nothing wrong by asking the court to order women to dress modestly at future hearings. "When you're on trial for your life, you need to be focused," the Chicago attorney said.
She claimed that at one hearing, a paralegal had worn “very short skirts,” which offended the Muslim defendants as they had to avert their eyes "for fear of committing a sin under their faith."
"If because of someone's religious beliefs, they can't focus when somebody in the courtroom is dressed in a particular way, I feel it is incumbent upon myself as a counsel to point that out and ask for some consideration from the prosecution," said Bormann, who said she always wore Muslim attire when with her clients out of respect. "Suffice it to say it was distracting to members of the accused."
Bormann’s request was one of several bizarre moments during Saturday’s 13-hour hearing for alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four accomplices. The hearing descended into farce as the defendants insisted on meal and prayer breaks which disrupted the hearings.
They also refused to wear headsets that provided simultaneous translations so the charges had to be read out in Arabic, adding an estimated two hours to the proceedings.
The five ignored the judge and read the Koran and a copy of the Economist that they passed among themselves.
At their last hearing on Jan. 21 2009, the five had appeared to be ready to accept responsibility for the outrage so they could be seen as martyrs.
However, at the weekend hearing they did everything they could to prolong the hearings which are now expected to last for years.
Bormann’s client, Walid bin Attash, was carried into the courtroom in a restraint chair. The judge, Army Col. James Pohl, said it was due to his behavior outside the court, but gave no other explanation.
Pohl offered three prayer breaks during the day, which the defendants accepted. But that wasn’t enough and the hearing was interrupted several times by impromptu prayers.
For most of the hearing all five appeared disinterested. The only exception was when Ramzi bin al Shibh complained that the prison leadership at Guantanamo was similar to former Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
“Maybe they are going to kill us and say that we are committing suicide,” he said when Pohl said he would be given a chance to complain about conditions at a later date.
As the hearing ended, bin al Shibh apparently mocked family members of the nearly 3,000 people killed in the plane attacks by giving them a thumbs-up.
Eddie Bracken, whose sister Lucy Fishman died in the attacks on the World Trade Center, told the New York Daily News that the Yemeni looked him in the eye through a glass partition separating the families from the courtroom and “broke into a sinister smile.”
Bracken, who was one of a group of relatives selected by lottery to attend the hearing, said he has every faith in the American legal system and the men’s right to a trial as that is what separates this country’s values from those of the defendants.
“People made a big deal about the defendants’ antics in the courtroom,” he said. “It didn’t get to me. Why? Because we’re here and they’re not going anywhere. Ever.”
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