Trial attire distracts focus from justice in courtroom

Published 11:00 pm Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The military-commissions trial at the Guantanamo Bay prison of five men accused in the 9/11 terrorist attacks devolved May 5 into a circuslike display that insulted victims’ families and made a mockery of justice. The presiding judge, Army Col. James Pohl, must restore a higher standard over future proceedings.

Pohl is going to extremes to create an atmosphere of impartiality, which is understandable considering that the defendants, all accused of major 9/11 support roles, have been exposed to torture, prolonged detention in secret overseas prisons and other procedures that have tainted the concept of fairness.

In his desire to keep the court case on track, Pohl allowed disruptions that stretched the bounds of reason. The judge can be balanced without acceding to the defense’s clownish behavior, and he must cease the appearance of bending to their whims.

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Take, for example, the mild frustration Pohl displayed, without ordering guards’ intervention, when defendant Ramzi bin al Shibh stood amid the proceedings and began praying. That caused a 20-minute delay. At another time, bin al Shibh began shouting.

The defendants, apparently colluding, refused to wear headphones that would enable them to hear the proceedings translated simultaneously into Arabic. This forced more delays and confusion as Pohl ordered the translation read over a loudspeaker.

Defense attorney Cheryl Borman contributed her own antics, arriving in a black head-to-toe abaya cloak that covered everything but her face. The garment is not required in Islam but is imposed in the strictest Muslim countries.

Borman chose not only to embrace one of the most extreme examples of oppression against women, which radicals such as the defendants advocate, but went the extra step of demanding that other women in the courtroom cover themselves so as not to offend the defendants’ religious sensibilities. … It is up to Pohl to stop this charade and instill order on a trial that represents the only chance to render justice for the deaths of nearly 3,000 in the 9/11 attacks. Do not tolerate mockery.