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Guantanamo judge halts using female guards for one captive’s legal meetings

A Navy judge has ordered the Guantanamo prison to temporarily stop using female soldiers to move an Iraqi detainee to legal meetings – a new practice, according to his lawyer, that has resulted in the war-on-terror captive twice being forced from a cell for refusing to be handled by a woman.

Navy Capt. J.K. Waits, the judge, issued the interim order Friday. It was under seal at the Pentagon website for military commissions on Monday.

But a lawyer who read the emergency order described its contents and a spokesman for the U.S. Southern Command likewise confirmed it – and said lawyers were looking at whether to obey it.

The Miami Herald first disclosed the controversy last month after an Oct. 8 meeting between military attorneys and Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, who is accused of serving as commander of al-Qaida’s army in Afghanistan in 2003 and 2004.

According to his lawyer, Marine Lt. Col. Tom Jasper, al-Hadi was for the first time confronted with the possibility of a female guard touching him, by attaching his shackles – and asked for a male guard rather than a woman. He was declared noncompliant with prison rules and subjected to a forced cell extraction.

The judge has agreed to hear an emergency motion on the conflict at a hearing next week. It was unclear whether the Pentagon would seek to prevent the public from watching because censors blacked out the words “male” and “female” in al-Hadi’s lawyers’ filing.

Guantanamo’s detention center commander, Rear Adm. Kyle Cozad, said in an interview last week that there has never been a policy of preventing female guards from touching male detainees in the prison’s most reclusive lockup, called Camp 7. That’s where the military houses the former CIA captives, including the alleged 9/11 mastermind, Khalid Sheik Mohammed.

The admiral said he was unaware of defense lawyers’ claims that women guards had not handled the so-called high-value detainees for years out of respect for their religion and tradition. But, Cozad said, he was “opposed to discrimination” in his guard force.

He does, however, continue the prison’s longstanding practice of having male guards conduct detainee groin searches and watch them shower.

Jasper, al-Hadi’s lawyer, said by email Monday from Guantanamo that he was trying to interview troops that had used the tackle-and-shackle technique on the 53-year-old Iraqi in October and on Nov. 3. He said he also wanted to see videotapes of the episodes, and al-Hadi’s medical records – but had so far not gotten cooperation from the military prison.

“The judge has ordered the Government to preserve the old status quo,” Jasper wrote the Miami Herald, “and not use female guards for legal meetings until he can hear some evidence at next week’s hearing.”

The detention center deferred to Southcom to say whether the prison was honoring the judicial order.

“The lawyers are reviewing it,” said Army Col. Greg Julian, Southcom’s chief spokesman, referring to consultations between the Miami-based building’s attorneys and the Pentagon’s Office of General Counsel.

Jasper framed it as an attorney-client issue that was inhibiting his team’s ability to work with the accused terrorist, and prepare for his trial.

The Pentagon had no comment. But Jasper said prosecutors want to limit next week’s hearing on the female-guard question to policy and law issues, and deny him evidence and witnesses. “The law is clear,” Jasper said, “the defense has equal access to witnesses.”

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©2014 Miami Herald

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