Guantánamo

Guantánamo judge rejects attempts to upend Sept. 11 defense team

U.S. Army military judge Col. James L. Pohl, shown in this July 7, 2005 file photo at Fort Hood, Texas, is the chief of the Guantánamo military commissions judiciary.
U.S. Army military judge Col. James L. Pohl, shown in this July 7, 2005 file photo at Fort Hood, Texas, is the chief of the Guantánamo military commissions judiciary. ASSOCIATED PRESS

The judge in the Sept. 11 trial refused Wednesday to let alleged terrorist Walid bin Attash fire his lawyers and likewise refused to let the Yemeni’s long-serving Chicago defender quit the case in a rapid succession of decisions to get pretrial hearings back on track.

Bin Attash, in his mid 30s, promptly announced he would boycott the proceedings and refuse all contact with his Pentagon-paid attorneys, before being led off to sit out the next seven days of hearings in his Camp 7 cell.

Seasoned death-penalty attorney Cheryl Bormann told the court in a bid to step down that she lost her ability to effectively defend the Yemeni accused of training some of the 9/11 hijackers. She recited a long string of disruptions of attorney-client privilege, including perceived eavesdropping, a former CIA “black site” interpreter turning up on a co-defendant’s staff and a lengthy FBI investigation that spied on defense teams.

“He can’t trust us. He can’t believe us,” Bormann told the judge, adding that bin Attash is not allowed to know “the evidence of his torture.”

The judge, Army Col. James L. Pohl, didn’t agree and ordered her to remain on the case.

But in an interesting twist, Pohl ordered the chief defense counsel to provide bin Attash with another lawyer, an independent counsel, to help the Yemeni file pleadings seeking to fire members of his defense team — if the auxiliary lawyer agrees. Pohl told bin Attash to stop writing letters to the judge seeking to fire Bormann and Michael Schwartz, a former Air Force major who resigned his commission to stay on the case.

It was unclear how quickly Marine Brig. Gen. John Baker, who runs the Pentagon’s war court defense office, could find a lawyer with suitable clearances to meet with and advise bin Attash.

Bin Attash and four other former CIA captives are charged with 2,976 counts of murder for allegedly orchestrating, funding and training the 19 men who hijacked the four planes on Sept. 11, 2001. No trial date has been set. Lawyers and the judge are still haggling over what evidence the defense lawyers, if not their clients, can see and ultimately what information could be used at the tribunal that seeks their execution if they are convicted.

Case prosecutor Ed Ryan opposed both the attempted firing of the lawyers and Bormann’s attempt to quit the case, dismissing the issue as essentially “complaints” by counsel about the way the U.S. treats “one of the biggest mass murderers in history.”

Carol Rosenberg: 305-376-3179, @carolrosenberg

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