The defense attorney who wore a traditional Islamic outfit during the rowdy arraignment of the accused Sept. 11 terrorists is defending her courtroom appeal that other women in the room wear more “appropriate” clothing to the proceedings — out of respect for her client’s Muslim beliefs.
Cheryl Bormann, counsel for defendant Walid bin Attash, attended the arraignment Saturday dressed in a hijab, apparently because her client insisted on it. She further requested that the court order other women to follow that example so that the defendants do not have to avert their eyes “for fear of committing a sin under their faith.”
At a press conference Sunday at Guantanamo Bay, Bormann said she dresses in a hijab at “all times” when she meets with her client “out of respect” for his beliefs. Asked why she requested other women do the same, Bormann said, “When you’re on trial for your life, you need to be focused.”
Bormann, who is not Muslim, claimed the issue came up several years ago, when a paralegal wore “very short skirts” and it became a distraction for the defendants. She said that on Saturday, “somebody” was also dressed “in a way that was not in keeping with my client’s religious beliefs.”
“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,” she said. “Suffice to say it was distracting to members of the accused.”
The clothing request was just one of several unusual moments during Saturday’s lengthy and chaotic hearing.
The court hearing for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his four co-defendants should have taken a couple of hours at most. Instead it lasted almost 13 hours, including meal and prayer breaks, as the men appeared to make a concerted effort to stall Saturday’s hearing.
They knelt in prayer, ignored the judge, wouldn’t listen to Arabic translations over their head sets and one even insisted on having the more than 20 pages detailing the charges against them read aloud, rather than deferred for later in their case as the judge wanted, which added more than two hours to the proceedings.
“They’re engaging in jihad in a courtroom,” said Debra Burlingame, whose brother, Charles, was the pilot of the plane that flew into the Pentagon. She watched the proceeding from Brooklyn.