An Army judge at Guantanamo Bay on Thursday refused to allow one of the five defendants charged with orchestrating the 9/11 attacks to dismiss his lead lawyer, ruling the accused hadn't shown the necessary "good cause" to do so.
Not even military commission prosecutors know why Walid bin Attash, a Yemeni in his mid-30s accused of helping train some of the September 11 hijackers, wanted to fire his longtime lawyer Cheryl Bormann, a death penalty defense expert from Chicago. The defendant gave his reasons to Judge James Pohl, presiding over the case, in a secret hearing yesterday afternoon that was not only closed to the public, but closed to all other lawyers involved in the case.
The judge's ruling puts a new twist in what's already been a complicated case of procedural twists, turns and snags: how can a lawyer represent a client in a capital case against that client's wishes? Will he trust her? Will he even speak to her?
Bormann has been an important figure in this case, frequently speaking forcefully in court on her client's behalf, covered completely in a floor-length black hijab whenever he's in the courtroom so as to win his confidence. It's unlikely the judge's ruling will resolve the issue completely.
It didn't help that after denying bin Attash's request, Judge Pohl couldn't fully explain the implications of his ruling to the defendant or anyone else. Asked by bin Attash whether this means he can tell his lawyers whether or not to file a particular legal motion in his case, Judge Pohl wasn't sure.
"This is a complicated issue," said David Nevin, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's defense attorney, who asked for time to investigate it in case it implicated his client. Judge Pohl agreed, saying "I don't have a clear view either."
Tomorrow, the judge is expected to address, among other things, a gender discrimination complaint filed against him by female guards that he ordered not to touch the defendants out of respect for their religion. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter and Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as well as a group of Republican lawmakers, have criticized that ruling as inappropriately bowing to terrorists. As a result, defense lawyers have claimed the Secretary of Defense is attempting to unlawfully influence Judge Pohl, who is his subordinate. They say this requires the judge to suspend the case.