WASHINGTON: A US Marine general who had been sentenced to confinement on the Guantanamo Bay naval base was freed, two days after he had been found in contempt of military court.

Brigadier General John Baker, who heads up the defence teams at Guantanamo, had been ordered to spend 21 days confined to quarters at the US military base in Cuba.

He had refused to comply with a judge’s demands during a hearing in the case against Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the accused mastermind of the attack on the USS Cole in 2000.

The unprecedented action drew quick scorn from critics, who said it illustrates the overall disfunction of the drawn-out military hearings against Nashiri and other high-profile inmates including the alleged plotters of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Harvey Rishikof, a civilian lawyer and the so-called “convening authority” in the Nashiri case, needed to approve Baker’s sentence.

Just as lawyers in Washington were preparing to appeal to a federal judge for Baker’s release, Rishikof agreed to defer the punishment while he considers the case.

At about 1:00 pm (1700 GMT), “Brigadier General Baker was served a letter notifying him that the imposition of the remainder of his sentence was delayed until the convening authority makes a final decision on the matter,” said military hearings spokesman Major Ben Sakrisson.

The general’s confinement stems from a dispute with the military judge in the Nashiri case, Air Force Colonel Vance Spath.

Baker had agreed to let Nashiri’s civilian defence team quit the case over a series of ethical conflicts and a lack of confidence that their privileged conversations were in fact confidential. But Spath ordered them to appear in person at the base or via video conference, the Miami Herald reported.

When Baker refused, Spath found him in contempt. Michel Paradis, a civilian lawyer who works for Baker, told the Herald that Baker’s release was a positive step, but that the deferred sentence was worrisome. “At any time, the (authorities) can re-impose the sentence on him,” Paradis told the Herald.