Case Coverage: Military Commissions

9/11 Arraignment #7: A Moment of Zen

By Benjamin Wittes, Wells Bennett
Saturday, May 5, 2012, 3:44 PM

The day has not been weird enough, so Bin ‘Attash’s lawyer, Cheryl Bormann, who is still dressed in full abaya, drives it over the cliff.

As Judge Pohl is getting ready to go over the attorneys’ qualifications, she steps forward to raise another problem the defense has: The way the female prosecutors are dressed.

This issue has implications going forward, she says. My client was denied at least in part some of what he wanted to wear today. And there are some issues with regard to cultural sensitivity more generally. I am not suggesting that all of the women wear whatI am wearing, she concedes. But I am suggesting that the prosecution team should make decisions regarding the appropriateness of the dress of female members so that our clients are not afraid to look at prosecutors for fear of committing a sin under their faith. My client understands that this commission is in the form of a westernized court system, she says, but he and I are asking that the prosecution use some discretion in wearing clothing appropriate for courtroom procedure.

Having just suggested that the prosecution adjust its behavior to the social expectations of accused Al Qaeda members, she sits down--to shocked gasps from the Ft. Meade press corps.

None of the female prosecutors are wearing bikinis, but Martins does not respond directly to the suggestion that business suits and military uniforms are just too edgy for the delicate moral sensibilities of men accused of blowing up hundreds of people. Instead, he simply notes that all members of the prosecution team are qualified under the rules of military commissions. All are sworn. And no member of the prosecution has acted in any manner that might tend to disqualify him or her in this proceeding. He also notes that the prosecution has sitting at its table assisting personnel who will not be representing the government. Interpreters and translators under the commission rules have been detailed and sworn, and their CVs are in the record, he says.