Guantánamo

Guantánamo warden: Women to escort Sept. 11 defendants ‘if mission dictates’

Army Col. Steve Gabavics, the new guard force commander, functionally the warden of detention operations at Guantánamo, briefing reporters in an empty cellblock at the communal Camp 6 prison building on Saturday, July 9, 2016. This photo was reviewed and approved for release by a member of the U.S. military, a condition of media access to the Detention Center Zone.
Army Col. Steve Gabavics, the new guard force commander, functionally the warden of detention operations at Guantánamo, briefing reporters in an empty cellblock at the communal Camp 6 prison building on Saturday, July 9, 2016. This photo was reviewed and approved for release by a member of the U.S. military, a condition of media access to the Detention Center Zone. crosenberg@miamiherald.com

Word of a judge’s decision to return female guards to handling the alleged 9/11 plotters has reached the detention center, where the guard force commander says he’ll seek to provide religious accommodation but the job, not gender, will drive staffing decisions.

Army Col. Steve Gabavics, showing reporters around a portion of the Detention Center Zone, said he learned Friday at about 5 p.m. that the judge had lifted a Jan. 7, 2015, temporary restraining order on women escorting the Sept. 11 defendants to court or legal meetings.

Army Col. James L. Pohl ultimately ruled for the women, saying their right to do the same jobs as their male counterparts trumped the cultural and religious objections of the five Muslim men accused of orchestrating the Sept. 11 attacks. Now it’s up to Gabavics, the chief of the guard force, to decide if and when to return women to escorting the defendants at the secret prison for former CIA captives, Camp 7.

“Because every one of our guards is trained for it, doesn’t matter male or female, if the mission dictates, they’ll do the escort,” Gabavics said.

“For everything we do we try to accommodate the religious desires of the detainees because it maintains the peace. That goes for food and everything else,” he added. But, “the bottom line is every one of our guards is properly trained, is effectively trained, is efficiently trained to perform the mission set.”

It was not known how many, if any, women are currently assigned to Task Force Platinum, the code name of the special Army unit that guards Camp 7. 

“We’ll obviously look at what the mission’s requirements are and who we have on the guard force at a given time,” he also said.

The alleged 9/11 mastermind, Khalid Sheik Mohammad, and four accused accomplices are due in court July 18 for pretrial hearings in the death-penalty case that charges them with nearly 3,000 counts of murder in the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackings.

In March, the commander of the U.S. Southern Command, Adm. Kurt Tidd, disclosed that 15 troops had filed discrimination complaints over Pohl’s order. Tidd’s spokeswoman said that eight were men, and that all 15 complaints were lodged between Jan. 20 and Feb. 3, 2015. All have likely left the base by now as most troops serve nine-month tours.

Carol Rosenberg: 305-376-3179, @carolrosenberg

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