January 28, 2015 / 9:25 PM / 4 years ago

Guantanamo order barring touching by women guards harmful: commander

FORT MEADE, Md. (Reuters) - A Guantanamo Bay military court order banning female guards from touching an accused al Qaeda commander harms soldiers’ morale and security at the prison, the commander of the prison’s secret lockup for former CIA captives testified on Wednesday.

A guard walks through a cellblock inside Camp V, a prison used to house detainees at Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base, March 5, 2013. REUTERS/Bob Strong

The November interim order bars female guards from touching Abd al Hadi al Iraqi, who faces war crimes charges. Iraqi, who is accused of leading attacks in Afghanistan, says that being touched by women guards violates his Muslim faith.

The commander of Camp Seven, the secret part of the prison in Cuba where the United States keeps former Central Intelligence Agency captives, said the order by Judge Navy Captain J.K. Waits had made guard scheduling difficult and had sent female soldiers’ morale plummeting.

“We have a motto, ‘One team, one fight.’ Now I have one male team and one female team,” said the Army National Guard military police officer. He testified under a pseudonym during a hearing to determine whether the interim order should stand.

Under questioning by prosecutor Army Lieutenant Colonel David Long, he said female guards felt that being excluded from assignments was harming their careers. The order also meant less rotation among duties by soldiers, raising the danger of inmates becoming too familiar with guards’ routines, the officer said.

In his cross-examination, defense lawyer Marine Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Jasper Jr. sought to show that meeting Iraqi’s request was a minor adjustment for guards.

He asked the officer about different physical training standards for women, about all-women units who handled females in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the small amount of time female guards would interact with Iraqi.

Asked if he as a commander could educate his guards about Iraqi’s request, the officer said: “I oversee the entire camp, not just one detainee.”

The issue arose in October when a female guard tried to shackle Iraqi for the first time since he arrived in Guantanamo Bay in 2007. He refused and male soldiers shackled him and moved him back to his cell.

Female guards have filed a sex discrimination complaint against Waits through the Defense Department. A second judge, Army Colonel James Pohl, also faces a discrimination complaint for a similar order involving Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, and four co-defendants.

The hearing will continue on Thursday. It was monitored at a media site at Fort Meade, outside Washington.

Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Mohammad Zargham and Eric Beech

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