A military judge ordered officials at the U.S. Navy base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on Wednesday to stop using female guards to move the five defendants in the Sept. 11 case to court and back and to meetings with their lawyers.
The ruling by Army Col. James Pohl addresses a dispute that has threatened to disrupt proceedings in the case, which is in the pretrial phase. Defendants have been refusing to meet with defense lawyers, arguing that any physical contact with a woman not related to them violates their Muslim beliefs.
Lawyers for the five defendants said the use of female guards, which apparently began only recently inside the top-secret unit where they are held known as Camp 7, is unnecessary and interferes with their right to legal counsel as they face trial by military commission.
Attorney David Nevin, who represents lead defendant Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, said the use of women as part of escort teams that move the men appears to be part of an effort to humiliate the men and undermine their religious sensibilities, a continuation of the treatment they endured as part of the CIA interrogation program.
“It is being done to disrupt them and to disrupt their ability to defend themselves,” Nevin said.
Prosecutors had opposed the motion seeking to stop the use of women, arguing that the composition of the guard force should be left to detention center officials.
Military officials previously said it would create a staffing burden if they were unable to use women on escort duty in Camp 7.
Pohl said in the written order that it would “best serve the interests of all parties” to temporarily bar physical contact between female guards and the five defendants until he can hear further evidence and issue a final decision. The ruling applies only in the Sept. 11 case, according to lawyers who had read the ruling, which was not yet public.
The dispute has been confined to Camp 7, where about 15 of the men labeled “high-value detainees” by the Pentagon are held. A military judge in a separate case involving another prisoner made a similar ruling in November.
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