US NAVAL STATION GUANTÁNAMO BAY, CUBA—The primary debate during pre-trial proceedings here at Guantánamo Bay Naval Base on Tuesday will revolve around whether female guards are allowed to make contact with detainees.
The “9/11 Five,” who allegedly plotted the September 11 attacks, are due in court Tuesday morning. This group includes Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the attacks against America. However, an actual trial for the al-Qaeda members remains distant, stemming from a multitude of issues that continue to bog down the proceedings.
Tuesday’s session “is expected to resume proceedings on Appellate Exhibit 254 series (female guard),” a Department of Defense spokesperson told reporters.
Army Col. Judge James Pohl issued an emergency order in January that female guards were prohibitied from transporting Gitmo detainees, on grounds that Islam forbids such contact. His ruling provoked a strong rebuttal from both Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Defense Secretary Ash Carter, who viewed the judge’s capitulation to Islamic doctrine as an “outrage.”
“I think it is counter to the way we treat service members, including women service members, and outrage is a very good word for it,” Carter said in his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee in late October. Joint Chiefs chairman Dunford added: “It is outrageous. It ought to be fixed. It hasn’t been to date.”
The defense team for the alleged terrorists has prepared dozens of motions on behalf of their clients, seeking to delay a trial and eventual sentencing as long as possible, and the Guantánamo judges’ acceptance of the female guards issue as legitimate has delayed the trial even further. The back-and-forth over whether it is acceptable for female guards to make contact with the Muslim detainees has lasted over a year.
“This commission has the duty of being mindful of religious and cultural differences within the parameters of its authority and responsibilities, while at the same time respecting the need of the detention facility commander to allocate resources and preserve security,” said judge, Navy Capt. J.K. Waits, in a separate 2014 ruling.
In a statement to reporters, Guantánamo chief prosecutor Brig. Gen. Mark Martins said:
The Commission has thus indicated its intent to continue on [Tuesday] where it left off in October: receiving evidence on a defense motion to stop all activities that bring female members of the Joint Task Force-Guantanamo guard force into direct physical contact with the Accused.
Cherly Bormann, a non-Muslim defense attorney who represents detainee Walid bin Attash, has worn full Islamic garb in taking the podium to defend her client. She has in the past demanded that all women who attend Guantánamo hearings wear “appropriate” clothing in capitulation to Islamic customs, so as not to offend her client.
Bin Attash, allegedly, was one of deceased al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden’s right-hand men, and he trained the September 11 hijackers, according to the prosecution. He was captured in 2003 and spent some time at a CIA black site and was then transferred to Guantánamo in late 2006.
John Eric Olson, whose wife Maureen Olson was killed in the attacks on the Twin Towers, said he was perplexed with the commission’s hypocrisy when he found out that Bormann was wearing a burqa.
“That certainly wasn’t in the papers in the [United] States,” Olson, who is an attorney, said in an interview with reporters. “I find it extraordinary… I think the military commission bends over backwards,” he said.
The alleged al-Qaeda terrorists—Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM), Walid Muhammad Salih, Mubarak Bin Attash, Ramzi Bin Al Shibh, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, and Mustafa Ahmed Adam Al Hawsawi—are scheduled to appear in court on Tuesday. For the rest of the process, they are allowed to waive their right to show up in court.