From The Chicago Tribune via The Friendly Atheist we have this intriguing item. Lawyer Cheryl Bormann is defending, in Guantanamo Bay, Walid bin Attash, accused of helping plot the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center. While appearing in court, Bormann will wear an abaya, a Muslim garmet that covers everything but the face (God help her if she added a veil!).
For her, the issue is a simple one of respecting the religious and cultural beliefs of a client. She said that since she was appointed to bin Attash’s case last year, she has always dressed conservatively out of deference to a client who believes he will violate a religious tenet if he looks at a woman who is immodestly dressed.
“My client has never seen my hair, has never seen my arms, has never seen my legs,” Bormann said in an interview Monday. “All of the defense counsel, all of the guards and everybody who works in Guantanamo Bay camp has seen me dressed like this. … I never thought in my wildest dreams that this would become an issue.”
Bormann’s actions at Guantanamo Bay are especially interesting because the crimes bin Attash and his co-defendants are accused of have stoked hatred of their religion among some Americans. Expecting others to show the same respect she displayed seems bold to some. But for the 52-year-old attorney from Chicago, buying the abayas in preparation for meetings with her client and then donning them in court over a suit was the right thing to do.
“There is nothing provocative about what I did. This is a religious issue and a cultural issue for [some of these defendants],” Bormann said in the interview. “I want him to be able to fully concentrate on the proceedings at hand without any kind of interference or loss of focus.”
Regardless of whether the military judges who will decide this case are prejudiced against Muslims, having a veiled lawyer is not something that will do her client any good. While respecting his beliefs, she’s inflaming any latent anti-Muslim sentiments. Now granted, maybe dressing that way in court will make her client more willing to trust her, but at some point Muslims will just have to confront the fact that in a U.S. courtroom one dresses in a way that makes a good impression on judges and jurors. (During my testimony in forensic-DNA cases a few years back, I would always wear a suit and tie.) Lawyers regularly profile jurors to weed out those who are prejudiced against clients. Perhaps they should profile themselves as well.
Bormann was way off the mark when she said this:
“If because of somebody’s religious beliefs, they cannot focus when somebody in the courtroom is dressed in a particular way, I feel then incumbent on myself as his counsel to point that out and ask for some consideration from the prosecution.”
That’s an ideal world, not the world we live in. She’s risking her client’s neck with her dress. I agree with Hemant’s take on this:
Nope. You don’t get to tell other people how to dress, Ms. Bormann. Sorry. Your client has an insane, misogynistic, religious philosophy, not an ankle-allergy. You do what you think is best for him, and if that includes covering your body or doing back flips or setting yourself on fire, that’s all your choice and your prerogative as his legal counsel. Please do not expect anyone else to bend over backwards to accommodate his irrational fear of women’s extremities.
Imagine being on trial for your life in Saudi Arabia, where all the lawyers, judges or jurors (I doubt they have jurors) are wearing traditional robes. Given a choice, would you insist that your Saudi lawyer wear a Western suit?
h/t: Grania Spingies