One of five Guantanamo Bay detainees accused of planning and aiding the Sept. 11 terrorist attack told a military judge Wednesday he wants to fire his lead defense attorney, a request that, if approved, could cause significant further delays in bringing the men to trial.
The judge, Army Col. James Pohl, could rule as soon as Thursday on the request by Walid Bin Atash, a Yemeni national captured in 2003 who is accused of conspiring to hijack the four commercial airliners used in the 2001 attack.
Bin Atash said through an interpreter he wants to replace civilian attorney Cheryl Bormann, a Chicago trial lawyer who has represented him at U.S. government expense since July 2011, because of her expertise in death-penalty cases. Bin Atash’s reasons for seeking her removal were submitted to the judge by Bormann in two documents that were not made public.
Pohl scheduled a closed session Wednesday afternoon to question Bin Atash about his request and his understanding of the law.
“The way I read the law, there needs to be good cause to sever the relationship,” Pohl said. He said he would have to find an irreconcilable conflict of interest or an irreparable breakdown in attorney-client communication.
Prosecutor Ed Ryan said the government would oppose the request.
Air Force Capt. Michael Schwartz, another Bin Atash attorney, asked Pohl to delay questioning Bin Atash until December so the defense team could research the law. Pohl, eager to resolve the matter, refused, calling Schwartz’ argument “a never-ending doodle.”
Bormann’s replacement would likely come from a pool of lawyers who have offered their services to the U.S. Military Commissions. The chosen attorney would have to gain “top secret” security clearance before getting up to speed on the complex case.
The hearing at the Guantanamo Bay naval station in Cuba began Oct. 19 and is scheduled through Friday. The Associated Press watched Wednesday’s proceedings on a closed-circuit video feed at Fort Meade, near Baltimore.
The five defendants, including self-proclaimed mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, face nearly 3,000 counts of murder in violation of the law of war, hijacking and terrorism for planning and providing support to the plot.