Military judge hears testimony about female Guantanamo guards affected by hands-off order

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FORT MEADE, Maryland — A military court order barring female soldiers from transporting certain Guantanamo Bay detainees to court dates and attorney meetings prompted discrimination complaints and a time-consuming reshuffle of job assignments, a guard supervisor testified Friday.

The Army National Guard staff sergeant testified at a pretrial hearing in Cuba for the five men charged with planning and aiding the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack. She was called by defense lawyers who want the judge to make permanent his Jan. 7 interim order barring women from the teams that escort their clients to and from their cells. The defendants say their Muslim faith prohibits physical contact with females other than their wives or relatives.

Since Army Col. James Pohl made the ruling in a U.S. Military Commissions proceeding, at least two female soldiers have filed equal opportunity complaints. On Tuesday, both Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called the order "outrageous" during a Senate committee hearing.

The staff sergeant testified anonymously Friday to protect her identity. She said guards and escort team members must touch detainees' shoulders, forearms and wrists to apply restraints. She said her National Guard unit is about 20 percent female, and there are two women among the 35 escort personnel she currently supervises.

Pohl's order in January prompted questions from both male and female guards about how to manage the staffing for their mission, she said.

"We actually spent some time on doing, if you will, shift evaluations on how many females were on each shift and what they worked," she said.

Pohl didn't say when he would rule on the government's motion to reconsider his interim order. The issue is subject to more litigation, including allegations that the comments Tuesday by Carter, Pohl's boss, amounted to unlawful influence.

The same issue arose last winter in the case of another Guantanamo detainee, Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi. The judge in that case, Navy Capt. J. Kirk Waits, eventually rescinded his interim prohibition on the use of female guards. He cited a 2009 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia that non-resident aliens detained at Guantanamo are not protected under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The Associated Press covered the pretrial hearing from a closed-circuit video feed at Fort Meade.

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