Can an attorney demand that every woman in the courtroom dress in an “appropriate” way? What if “appropriate” means adhering to a conservative version of sharia, or Islamic law? At the May 5 arraignment of the alleged 9/11 masterminds, defense counsel asked for just that.
Cheryl Borman, representing defendant Walid bin Attash, asked the court to order the women in the courtroom to dress “appropriately” as a show of “respect” for her client’s religious beliefs. That is, Borman insinuated, women in an American courtroom should dress according to sharia law because the defendant is a Muslim. Defense counsel stated that simply looking at the prosecution team’s female members could cause him to “sin” and lose his “focus” on the trial.
In a show of passive-aggressiveness and dramatic flair, Borman accused “someone” in the courtroom of dressing improperly. While she didn’t define what attire would indeed be “appropriate,” Borman herself wore a black hijab and long black robe, showing only her face. Curiously enough, Borman is not a Muslim. However, bin Attash’s other lawyer boasted that “[o]ur client has never seen Ms. Bormann’s hair, he’s never seen her arms, he’s never seen her legs.” Coming from Borman, an accredited attorney, not only is the request to limit the garb of another legal professional to what is acceptable under sharia law in an American courtroom insulting, but it flies in the face of American values.
To his credit, Judge James Pohl didn’t honor the request with a response; instead, he simply reminded defense counsel that all members of the prosecution team were qualified and sworn and thus eligible to be present in the courtroom. At a press conference, chief military prosecutor Brig. Gen. Mark Martins stated, “The women on the prosecution team are dressed in an appropriate and professional manner.”
The arraignment, which should have been routine, ended up becoming a 13-hour-long circus. The defendants refused to respond to the judge’s questions, refused to enter a plea, refused to use the court’s translation system, read magazines, shouted at the judge, whispered among themselves, and demanded that the 20-plus-page indictment be read aloud. Most shockingly of all, defense counsel James Connell defended the distraction tactics, labeling them “peaceful resistance to an unjust system.” It’s one thing for an attorney to put forward legal arguments with a low probability of success; it’s another thing altogether for a lawyer, as an officer of the court, to publicly declare the American justice system as a whole “unjust.”
Given these circumstances, it seems painfully clear that defense counsel are participating in a subversive form of lawfare, mocking the American legal system in order to demonstrate their clients’ belief that the court holds no legitimate power over them, alleged mass murderers of innocent American citizens. The 9/11 terrorists have already declared war on our values; now they show their disdain for our sense of fairness, justice, and equality before the law, with the help of their attorneys.
Islamist terrorist groups hate America for, among other things, the rights and freedoms our women possess. A request by an officer of the court that women dress in accordance with sharia law, which assumes that they are dressed “inappropriately,” seeks to bring extremist Islamist rhetoric into the American courtroom, purporting to extend control over the bodies of women as though the court were an Islamist enclave. Further, the request to censor the women’s appearance amounts to gender discrimination.
“They’re engaging in jihad in a courtroom,” said Debra Burlingame, sister of the pilot of the plane that struck the Pentagon. If defense counsel want to accuse the military court of illegitimacy, they should do so directly instead of using passive-aggressive and childish tactics to exhibit disdain for our legal system and the rights of females in this country. Mocking the process is the least effective way to challenge substantive charges of mass murder, particularly when the death penalty is on the line, and leads one to question whether the attorneys are representing their clients’ best interests.
Brooke Goldstein is a New York City-based human rights attorney, award-winning filmmaker, and media personality, and serves as director of The Lawfare Project. Skylar Curtis is an attorney, legal analyst and a research associate at The Lawfare Project.