WASHINGTON : A Guantanamo Bay judge sentenced a senior military defence attorney Wednesday to three weeks’ confinement on the naval base after finding him in contempt of court, according to a US official and a published report.

The highly unusual action at Guantanamo’s bedevilled military hearings stem from the latest snafu in the case against Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the accused mastermind of the attack on the USS Cole in 2000.

The issue centres on Nashiri’s civilian defence team’s desire to quit the case over a series of ethical conflicts and a lack of confidence that their privileged conversations with him were in fact confidential. Brigadier General John Baker, who heads up the defence at Guantanamo, gave the three civilian lawyers permission to quit.

But Air Force Colonel Vance Spath, the military judge in the case, said they could not leave the case and ordered them to appear in person at the base or via video conference.

When Baker refused to return the team to the case or to testify, Spath found him in contempt, the Miami Herald said.

Spath sentenced Baker to 21 days confinement and ordered him to pay a $1,000 fine, according to the Herald.

A US official confirmed to AFP the sentence.

Attorney David Nevin, who represents alleged September 11, 2001 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, said the latest breakdown in the process that has dragged on for years highlights inadequacies of trying people in a war court instead of through the federal system.

“Putting people in jail for doing their jobs is just exactly what you would expect as a step in the military commissions,” Nevins told AFP.

“It illustrates the proposition that military commissions are not a genuine criminal justice system.” The Pentagon did not immediately comment.