Guantánamo

War court censors word ‘female’ in legal argument

Women soldiers have guarded Guantánamo captives from the very first day. In this photo, taken the day the first detainees arrived, Jan. 11, 2002, Private First Class Jodi Smith, an MP, stands perimeter watch at Camp X-Ray, the Pentagon’s first war-on-terror detention facility at the Navy base in Cuba.
Women soldiers have guarded Guantánamo captives from the very first day. In this photo, taken the day the first detainees arrived, Jan. 11, 2002, Private First Class Jodi Smith, an MP, stands perimeter watch at Camp X-Ray, the Pentagon’s first war-on-terror detention facility at the Navy base in Cuba. U.S. NAVY

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.

The documents were still redacted on the Pentagon website's Hadi docket Friday.

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.

Reaction | No legitimate reason to redact

The U.S. military attorney who filed the censored legal motion on Friday in response to a Miami Herald inquiry:

“Frankly, I can't think of any legitimate reason to redact the genders of the guards. There's no sensitive law enforcement techniques being exposed here, nothing is classified about the existence of female guards, and as you noted, a plain reading of the released motion obviously reveals the genders involved. That the word female was still un-redacted on the link to the motion as of this morning makes the whole thing even more absurd. It's just par for the course in the transparent proceedings of the commissions.” Lt. Col. Tom Jasper, U.S. Marine Corps

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Read more about the secret prison for former CIA captives here.

Read more about the female guard controversy in the camp here.

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