Judge won't let Sept. 11 suspect fire lawyer; case advances

AP News
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Posted: Oct 29, 2015 4:35 PM

FORT MEADE, Md. (AP) — The government's case against five Guantanamo Bay detainees charged with planning and aiding the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack lurched ahead Thursday after a military judge refused to let one of them fire his lead defense attorney.

Army Col. James Pohl ruled during a pretrial hearing in Cuba that Walid Bin Atash, a Yemeni national captured in 2003, hadn't shown good cause for severing his lawyer-client relationship with Cheryl Bormann, a civilian death-penalty specialist from Chicago who is representing him at U.S. government expense.

Replacing Bormann would have delayed the still-unscheduled trial, said Edward Ryan, a civilian prosecutor. Her successor would have had to gain top-secret security clearance before getting up to speed on the case.

Pohl asked Bin Atash why he wanted to fire Bormann during a closed session Wednesday afternoon. His reasons were kept secret to protect attorney-client information.

Pohl had said that Bin Atash would have to show an irreconcilable conflict of interest or an irreparable breakdown in communication.

"You have failed to meet the burden," he told the detainee Thursday.

The dispute appeared to involve legal strategy rather than animosity between Bin Atash and Bormann, who wears a head-to-toe black garb called an abaya in court to avoid offending her Muslim client. The judge advised Bin Atash that when such disputes arise between clients and attorneys, "they may have a responsibility to file something over your objection."

The ruling cleared the way for arguments on other issues, including an interim order Pohl issued in January, subject to further litigation, that barred female guards from transporting the defendants after they asserted that their Muslim faith prohibits physical contact with females other than their wives or relatives. Some female guards have filed equal opportunity complaints.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, both called Pohl's order "outrageous" during a Senate committee hearing Tuesday. Their comments prompted lawyers for Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept. 11 attack, to file a motion alleging unlawful influence by Carter, Pohl's boss.

Pohl scheduled testimony Friday from several current or former camp commanders on the female guard issue.

The Associated Press covered a closed-circuit video feed of the hearing at Fort Meade, near Baltimore.