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9/11 defense attorney wears hijab at hearing, wants others in court to dress more modestly

Janet Hamlin / Pool via AP

Pentagon-paid civilian defense lawyer Cheryl Bormann, defense attorney of accused Sept. 11 co-conspirator Walid bin Attash, argues a point during the military hearing at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base in Cuba, Saturday, May 5, 2012.

The civilian defense attorney of one of the men accused of plotting the Sept. 11 attacks wore a black hijab and long black robe at the arraignment of the five Guantanamo prisoners Saturday, and she wants other women to dress more modestly.

Attorney Cheryl Bormann, 52, who is from Chicago and is not Muslim, said she wore the modest garment that revealed only her face to show respect for the religious sensitivities of her client, Yemeni terror suspect Walid bin Attash.


Bormann asked the court to order the other women present at the hearing to dress more modestly so as not to distract the defendants, who would be "committing a sin under their faith" by looking at them.

According to The Washington Post, chief military prosecutor Brig. Gen. Mark Martins deemed the request not worthy of a response.

"The women on the prosecution team are dressed in an appropriate and professional manner," Martins said Sunday at a press conference.

Bin Attash’s military attorney, Air Force Capt. Michael Schwartz, told msnbc.com he didn't think Martins had the opportunity to see what sparked Bormann's request due to the setup of the courtroom. Schwartz said one of the female attorneys present in the courtroom was wearing a skirt whose bottom hemline appeared closer to her waist than to her knees when she was seated.

“Knowing our clients' conservative religious beliefs we were concerned about their ability to really participate in the defense of their case without losing focus for fear of committing a sin under their religion,” Schwartz said.

He said Bormann wears the hijab or abaya whenever she's around their client "out of respect for [bin Attash's] religious beliefs."

"Our client has never seen Ms. Bormann’s hair, he’s never seen her arms, he’s never seen her legs,” Schwartz added.

The military attorney did not comment on whether Bormann had received threats following the arraignment.

After chaotic start, long fight predicted in Guantanamo 9/11 case

The five defendants face 2,976 counts of murder and terrorism in the 2001 attacks that sent hijacked jetliners into New York's World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The charges carry the death penalty.

Even the judge grew frustrated with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed during a hearing at Guantanamo Bay as he refused to answer his questions. NBC's Michael Isikoff reports.

On Saturday, the self-described mastermind of the attacks Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his co-defendants refused to respond to the judge or use the court's translation system and demanded a lengthy reading of the charges. One of them got up and started praying.

Defense lawyer James Connell called the tactics "peaceful resistance to an unjust system."

The arraignment, Connell said, "demonstrates that this will be a long, hard-fought but peaceful struggle against secrecy, torture and the misguided institution of the military commissions."

The defendants' actions outraged relatives of the victims.

"They're engaging in jihad in a courtroom," said Debra Burlingame, whose brother, Charles, was the pilot of the plane that flew into the Pentagon. She watched the proceeding from Brooklyn on one of the closed-circuit video feeds around the United States.

NBC News' Michael Isikoff contributed to this report.

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