Last updated on: July 11, 2013 5:11 PM
WASHINGTON — A U.S. federal judge has ordered the government to stop genital searches of prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay detention center, an act detainees’ lawyers say was aimed to break a hunger strike and discourage their clients from seeking legal counsel.
The decision by U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth on Thursday would change the examinations detainees are subject to before and after any phone call or meeting they have with their counsel.
“Specifically, guards shall be limited to grasping the waistband of the detainee’s trousers and shaking the pants to dislodge any contraband,” Lambert wrote in his ruling.
Col. John Bogdan, who oversees the prison, ordered guards to begin the genital searches in May. He told the court his decision was based on an interest in the security of the detention facility.
He said he “developed a phased approach in December 2012 to gradually” implement the new search procedure following the suicide of detainee Adnan Farhan Abd Latif and the separate discovery of contraband when prisoners in Camp 6 were moved from communal living to single cell housing.
In response, Judge Lamberth said the “Court finds that the new search procedures lack a ‘valid, rational connection’ to the legitimate government interest - security - put forward to justify them.”
Lamberth also asserted that “Bogdan’s swiftness in implementing the new searches in May 2013 shows that linking the new searches to the death of Latif and the subsequent investigation was merely an afterthought.”
Defense Department spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Todd Breasseale said the Pentagon is reviewing the decision.
“We’re aware of the judge’s ruling and we will continue to follow the law,” he said about an hour after receiving the Court’s decision.
The government has not yet stated whether it will make an appeal.
Attorney David Remes, who represents five Guantanamo detainees who are hunger striking to protest their treatment, has described the frisking of detainees' genitals and buttocks as “humiliating, especially for devout Muslim men."
He demanded Bogdan’s immediate replacement and called the court's ruling a "disaster for the government."
"It's an unmistakable reminder that the court, not the government, is custodian of the legal rights of the detainees," Remes said.
Cori Crider of the British human rights group Reprieve said the judge’s decision was “fantastic news.”
“Those searches were clearly established to stop clients coming out to speak to attorneys and therefore the world outside,” she said, noting that many prisoners were refusing calls because they did not want to undergo the "groping."
“I hope their being discontinued will convince the clients to come out and speak to lawyers again, so we can learn what is happening with the hunger strike more easily," she said.
Of the 166 men imprisoned at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, more than 100 are refusing to eat to protest their indefinite detention. The government is force-feeding 45 prisoners. The hunger strike began in February.
In a separate Guantanamo case Monday, U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler said she did not have the jurisdiction to rule on a detainee's petition to stop the force feedings, which she called a "painful, humiliating and degrading process." That action, she said, should be taken by U.S. President Barack Obama.