[JURIST] A prosecutor on Thursday argued [transcript, PDF] that a military court order barring female guards at Guantanamo Bay from touching an alleged al Qaeda commander violates Pentagon sex discrimination guidelines. At Thursday’s hearing on the ban, Prosecutor Army Lieutenant Colonel David Long also argued that the court order means that inmates could set prison policies. A lawyer for Abd al Hadi al Iraqi [case materials] argued that lifting the temporary ban would violate the US Constitutional and US Supreme Court rulings on religious freedom. Al Hadi’s lawyer also argued that lifting the ban would violate al Hadi’s right to a speedy trial and would constitute cruel and unusual punishment. In response, Prosecutor Long said the Guantanamo Bay procedures were in line with Supreme Court and other rulings that gave prisons leeway in their rules: “The Supreme Court and the circuit courts recognize that those who operate the prisons day after day deserve a significant amount of deference.” The issue arose in October after a female guard tried to shackle al Hadi and he refused. About 20 percent of guards at Camp Seven, where al Hadi is held, are women. Al Hadi, who faces war crime charges, says being touched by female guards violates his Muslim religious beliefs. Judge Navy Captain J.K. Waits issued the order banning the order in November. Soon after, female guards filed sex discrimination complaints against Waits through the Department of Defense (DOD) [official website]. Long argued that this creates a division between male and female guards, and that it harms the careers of women [Reuters report], as the DOD has opened up more jobs to women. Long also said the ban opens up the door for other inmates to request policy changes.
The role of women in combat missions has been a serious issue for the DOD in the past. In November 2012 four female service members filed suit [JURIST report] against the US Army and the DOD to end a policy that barred women from combat units and related posts, alleging the policy had limited the potential of women’s careers and was a violation of the Fifth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. In January 2011 a US military panel, the Military Leadership Diversity Commission, recommended [JURIST report] that women be allowed to serve on the front lines of combat. Their report said that integration of women into combat forces would have no ill effects and recommended a “time-phased” approach to the implementation of new combat policies that would create additional career options for women that include “direct ground combat.” Those suits came on the heels of another civil rights push in military policy: 2012’s repeal of the controversial “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy [10 USC § 654; JURIST news archive]. In 2012, Australia became the fourth nation [JURIST report] to permit women to serve in combat roles. In 2013 former US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta [official profile] announced plans [JURIST report] to permit women in the US military to serve in front-line combat units. Panetta said that in addition to lifting the 1994 ban, he is directing the military “to eliminate all unnecessary gender-based barriers to service.”