Courts & Crime

Appeals court upholds genital searches at Guantanamo

A detainee is escorted to an interrogation room at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba
A detainee is escorted to an interrogation room at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba Chicago Tribune/MCT

An appeals court on Friday upheld genital searches of Guantanamo Bay detainees who are going to meet with their lawyers.

In a unanimous decision, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit called the search policies “reasonable security precautions.”

“The new search procedures promote the safety of the guards and inmates by more effectively

preventing the hoarding of medication and the smuggling of dangerous contraband,” Judge Thomas Griffith wrote.

Defense attorneys contend that the aggressive searches deter detainees from talking to counsel. Last year, U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth agreed and ordered the searches halted. The Obama administration appealed.

“For these detainees – devout Muslims – these searches are culturally and religiously abhorrent,” attorney S. William Livingston said during oral argument, adding that “they’d rather forgo the meeting with counsel than undergo the search.”

Livingston and attorney David Remes, among others, represent detainees who include Saeed Mohammed Saleh Hatim, a native of Yemen who’s said he was tortured into saying that he belonged to al Qaida. A federal judge ordered Hatim released in 2009, but that order has been appealed.

It has long been Guantanamo policy that detainees are searched before and after meeting with a visitor. Standard protocol in military prisons calls for a non-invasive search of the genital area of a prisoner, Griffith noted. Until last year, searches at Guantanamo omitted that in an effort to accommodate the detainees’ religious sensibilities.

“Guantanamo officials explained that they adopted the new search policies to address the risk to security posed by hoarded medication and smuggled weapons,” Griffith wrote. “It stands to reason that enhancing the thoroughness of searches at Guantanamo in the way called for by standard Army prison protocol would enhance the effectiveness of the searches.”