Gitmo officer: Limits on female guards put mission at risk

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FORT MEADE, Md. (AP) — The commander of a top-secret Guantanamo prison housing unit testified Wednesday that two court orders barring female guards from jobs requiring physical contact with certain Muslim detainees could jeopardize the safety of his operation by limiting his staffing options.

The Army officer testified for the prosecution under a pseudonym at a pretrial hearing for detainee Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, who says his faith prohibits Muslim men from having physical contact with females other than their wives or close relatives.

The government is contesting a military judge's temporary order in November barring female guards from escorting Hadi to attorney-client meetings and court hearings. A similar ruling by another military judge earlier this month pertains to the five defendants in the Sept. 11 attacks.

Defense attorneys have argued that the government recently added women to the escort teams to humiliate the detainees and disrupt their ability to defend themselves. They want the temporary orders made permanent.

All six detainees are being held at Camp 7, which houses about 15 men deemed "high-value detainees" by the Pentagon.

The military judge, Navy Capt. J. Kirk Waits, said he will hear more arguments Thursday in Hadi's case.

The Camp 7 commander, a military police officer, testified it was hard to find enough soldiers with the necessary top-secret security clearance to staff the unit. A female guard, who also testified anonymously, said there are two females among the seven to nine guards who come into direct contact with detainees.

The commander said that removing females from escort teams results in more interaction between the remaining male guards and prisoners. He said that makes it more likely those guards could become complacent or form relationships that could jeopardize the mission.

The commander said limiting the role of female guards also hurts their morale and advancement prospects.

"That soldier feels they're not part of this team," he said.

"As much as it might seem like it's a small thing, during a yearlong deployment here, if a male conducted 500 moves and that female counterpart only conducted 100 moves, you're looking at evaluations and awards," he said. "Someone's getting a higher mark in there."

Hadi submitted written testimony, which was read aloud in court. He said he had been forcibly extracted from his cell three times since Oct. 8 because of his refusal to be touched by female guards. He said he was disciplined after the events, but didn't describe the punishment.

"If female guards must have physical contact with me to bring me to my meeting or to court, my faith requires me to refuse those movements, and I will continue to refuse them," Hadi said in the written declaration.

Some female soldiers have filed gender discrimination complaints with the military over the issue, judges in the cases said Monday.

Waits allowed prosecutors to submit as evidence a letter they said Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the detainee accused of masterminding the Sept. 11 attacks, tried in vain to smuggle to Hadi, wrapped in a newspaper. The letter contains a list of questions Hadi might be asked if he is called to testify, and answers he should give to prosecutors. A prosecutor, Army Lt. Col. David Long, argued successfully that the letter was relevant because it showed how the dispute could have a broader impact within the prison.

Hadi is accused of being an al-Qaida commander who organized deadly attacks on U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan. He faces up to life in prison if convicted of the alleged war crimes. He appeared in court wearing a white tunic, a headdress and a long, gray beard.


Associated Press writer Ben Fox contributed to this report from Miami.

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