MIAMI (AP) — A military judge presiding over the Sept. 11 terrorism case at Guantanamo Bay issued an order Friday allowing female guards to resume transporting the defendants despite their religious objections.
The order issued by Army Col. James Pohl is intended to end a controversy that has dragged on for more than 18 months at the U.S. base in Cuba.
The defendants say physical contact with women not related to them violates their strict Muslim faith. The issue caused several to refuse meetings with their lawyers, disrupting efforts to defend them in the death penalty case. It was only detainees in the high security unit known as Camp 7 who raised objections. Prisoners in the less restrictive sections of the detention center have little physical contact with guards on a regular basis.
Pohl issued a temporary order in January 2015 prohibiting women guards from escorting the Sept. 11 defendants to court or to meetings with lawyers while the judge considered arguments for a permanent ban. His ruling prompted criticism from officials in Washington, including Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Pohl said in April that he would eventually lift the ban but extended it for six months because of their criticism, which he said created the appearance that they were trying to influence proceedings. Carter and Dunford responded in May with a joint statement in which they asserted that they meant to support "gender-neutral staffing" at the prison but did not intend to interfere with the Sept. 11 case. The judge said in his ruling Friday that he was satisfied.
The joint statement by Secretary Carter and General Dunford was "appropriate action to absolve any taint from their comments upon the public's view of the Independence of the Commission," he wrote.
The U.S. is trying five prisoners at Guantanamo by military commission for their alleged roles planning and aiding the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack. The case remains in the pretrial stage with no trial date scheduled. All five could get the death penalty if convicted of charges that include terrorism and nearly 3,000 counts of murder in violation of the laws of war.