Women guards at the U.S.’s military facility at Guantánamo Bay are currently prohibited from having physical contact with five Muslim defendants on trial for their roles in the 9/11 terrorist attacks due to their religious beliefs.
The controversial ban will be lifted but not for another six months, says the presiding military judge Army Colonel James Pohl, who originally agreed to the ban.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford have both publicly criticized the ban.
In a 39-page ruling, Pohl said that the ban would remain in place for the next six months due the “disparaging” remarks made by the officials, saying that such remarks could seems as if they were trying to influence the outcome of the military commission.
The five men face the death penalty if convicted.
“These comments were entirely inappropriate,” Pohl said. “They crossed the line. Senior military leaders should know better than to make these kinds of comments in a public forum during an ongoing trial.”
Carter referred to the ban as an “outrage” and “counter to the way we treat service members” while testifying in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Lawyers for the men argued that having women touch them violates their religious beliefs, while the military said that the ability to employ guards regardless of gender as well as ensure that the prison is adequately staffed were more primary concerns.
The current ban only applies to the five 9/11 defendants, who are kept in a top-secret location in the prison and only moved by special escort teams.
Without the ban, one of the defense lawyers said that his client will refuse to meet with him or attend the court sessions. “This issue is not about women, this issue is about legitimate religious and cultural sensitivities,” he said.
The case is still in the pretrial stage. The defendants are charged with close to 3,000 counts of murder connected to war and terrorism laws.