Battle over Guantanamo court attire in 9/11 case
WASHINGTON — The self-proclaimed mastermind of the September 11 attacks wanted to wear military-style camouflage clothes to court but prison officials denied the request as inappropriate, documents show.
A series of documents and photographs released by the Pentagon this week show that the lawyers for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other men accused of plotting the worst attacks on US soil traded barbs with military officials over the co-defendants’ attire.
The lawyers are urging the chief military commissions judge to stop Guantanamo commander Rear Admiral David Woods from interfering with the court wardrobe of their clients, who face the death penalty if convicted.
Mohammed had sought to wear the camouflage items for his May 5 arraignment. But after examining the men’s planned attire, prison authorities rejected everything but the white robes and camp uniforms they eventually wore.
In the end, the only person whose wardrobe stood out in court was that of Pentagon-paid defense lawyer Cheryl Bormann, who wore a traditional black abaya — typically worn by some conservative Muslim women — along with a headscarf that only left her face exposed.
She showed up the next day wearing a low-cut dress for a press conference to protest what she deemed provocative attire worn by other women in the courtroom, making an appeal for the women to wear more “appropriate” clothing.
The defense’s motion condemned Woods’s “arbitrary and capricious” denial of the detainees’ rights to wear clothing of their choosing, saying it “furthered the CIA’s goal to psychologically dislocate detainees from their individual and social personalities.”
Mohammed had sought to wear a woodland-patterned jacket, hunting vest and fabric for a proposed turban, Woods said in an affidavit, explaining he denied the request because of “security and good order and discipline concerns, and because they were inappropriate courtroom attire.”
Two of his co-defendants, including Mohammed’s nephew Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali — also known as Ammar al-Baluchi — wanted to wear traditional Afghan caps and vests.
Woods also forbade those choices because “such vests are traditionally only worn during the winter or in colder climates,” the affidavit said.
Another one of the accused men, Mustapha al-Hawsawi of Saudi Arabia, wanted to wear one of Guantanamo’s infamous orange jumpsuits to court, but Woods rejected the request due to “institutional and security concerns.”
The uniform is usually reserved for disobedient detainees at the US naval base in southern Cuba and Hawsawi’s attorney, Commander Walter Ruiz, told AFP that his client wanted to wear it “as a silent reminder of Guantanamo’s legacy of torture and in peaceful defiance of a system that is built to kill.”
Woods also barred the men from wearing any vests or clothing with pockets, noting they were “a potential means of removing unauthorized items from the courtroom.”
But “in recognition of their cultural and religious significance,” the men were allowed to wear white robes and skullcaps to court, and bring prayer rugs to perform their daily rituals.
“The detainee’s attire should not transform this commission into a vehicle for propaganda and undermine the atmosphere that is conducive to calm and detached deliberation and determination of the issues presented,” prosecutors wrote in a motion.
The five men are due back in court on August 8-12 for a preliminary hearing on defense appeals.