By Carol Rosenberg
The Miami Herald.
A controversy has roiled the war-on-terror prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, for weeks now over the recent use of female guards to shuttle devout Muslim captives to legal appointments.
But the war court censor doesn’t want you know that the issue is about women.
A security team blacked out the words “female” and “male” in a military defense team’s legal motion that asks a war court judge to order the prison to stop using female guards to shackle and otherwise touch an Iraqi man accused of running al-Qaida’s army in Afghanistan.
The lawyers argue in their 12-page motion that the issue is one of religious sensitivity and that for years the guards had accommodated their traditional Muslim client’s wishes that he, Abd al Hadi al Iraqi, not be touched by female guards.
They also argue, between redactions, that there are plenty of male guards at the prison. For example, they said, when the issue flared on Oct. 8, the military brought in a four-man squad to tackle and shackle Hadi because he refused to be shackled by a female guard for fear she’d touch him.
The “Emergency Defense Motion for Appropriate Relief to Cease Physical Contact with Female Guards” appeared on the war court docket Wednesday. Censors soon issued a correction calling it “Emergency Defense Motion for Appropriate Relief to Cease Physical Contact with [REDACTED] Guards.”
A plain reading of what was made public makes clear that the censors blacked out at least 13 instances of the word “female” and then 6 usages of “male.”
War court judges, who are junior in rank to the admiral who runs the detention center, are usually reluctant to weigh in on the way the military manages its prisoners — unless an issue interferes with fair trial rights.
Lawyers for Hadi, 53, argue the female-guard issue does just that. He is facing charges at the war court punishable by life in prison for allegedly running al-Qaida’s Army in Afghanistan in 2003 and 2004. They say Hadi hadn’t been handled by female guards before Oct. 8, sees it as “arbitrary” and “capricious” disrespect of his Muslim faith, and is refusing to see his attorneys because of the possibility a woman will now touch him.
The problem emerged after Hadi met his lawyers in a lockup called Camp Echo. A female guard was assigned to shackle him. He protested, according to his attorneys, and the guard force declared him non-compliant and had a four-man guard unit tackle and shackle him and force him back to his secret lockup, called Camp 7.
The military, for its part, argues it’s mostly gender neutral in its use of Army guards at the war-on-terror lockup.
Female guards don’t see captives shower and they don’t conduct groin searches. But they aren’t excluded from other aspects of guard duty, according to a prison spokesman.
“Women are a critical part of the United States all-volunteer military force serving around the globe,” said Navy Capt. Tom Gresback from the detention center Oct. 15. Prison policy “is no different in offering equal opportunity for all service members serving here.”
A Pentagon spokesman, Army Lt. Col. Myles Caggins III, said he could offer no explanation of why censors chose to make the legal motion about the issue gender neutral, too.
But he said he expected that the war court would soon at least restore the word “female” to the title. By close of business Thursday, the redactions were still there.
The female guard controversy is not unique to Hadi. Some of the accused Sept. 11 plotters, who are kept in the same secret prison, have similarly refused to meet with their lawyers.
War court censors are particularly secretive about the lockup for former CIA captives who were subjected to waterboarding and other so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” during George W. Bush’s presidency.
In January 2013, a censor outside the courtroom cut sound to the observers of a pretrial hearing in the Sept. 11 case when a lawyer for the accused 9/11 mastermind mentioned the secret CIA prison network. The judge in that case ordered the external switch disconnected. It had been operated by the CIA.
Hadi’s last hearing was Sept. 15, when a U.S. Marine attorney who served in Iraq was added to his defense team. Hadi’s next hearing is scheduled Nov. 17. The judge, Navy Capt. J.K. Waits, has included the female guard flap among the list of motions to be considered.