Guantanamo Bay: Most Invasive Search Method Yet is Ruled Illegal

Apparently “enhanced interrogation techniques” and being imprisoned indefinitely are not punishment enough for the detainees at Guantanamo Bay. Now, detainees are routinely being groped by officers before and after meetings with legal counsel.

Thankfully, at least one judge in America still sees the injustices happening at Guantanamo. Judge Royce Lamberth, the chief judge of the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia, published a blistering 35-page opinion ordering the military to halt the unnecessary searches.

In his opinion, the searches are a punishment for the ongoing four-month hunger strike, designed to discourage detainees from meeting with their lawyers. Lamberth called the practice — which includes guards placing their hands around and between prisoners’ genitals and thighs and anus — “yet another exaggerated response” by the officials running Guantanamo.  

“As petitioners’ counsel argued, the choice between submitting to a search procedure that is religiously and culturally abhorrent or forgoing counsel effectively presents no choice for devout Muslims like petitioners,” Lamberth wrote.

He continued by saying that the new searches flagrantly disregarded the need for religious and cultural sensitivity.

Lamberth ordered the warden, Colonel John Bogdan, to return to the old search method of shaking the waistband of detainee’s underwear, without touching the genitals, to dislodge any contraband.

The leadership at Guantanamo has argued that the new searches are necessary in light of recent events, including the suicide of one detainee by pills believed to have been smuggled into the prison and a recent search of prisoners’ living quarters that turned up contraband including improvised weapons. This logic is faulty, however, as the old search should have turned up any contraband that was coming from legal meetings.

This is not Guantanamo’s first attempt to limit prisoners’ access to legal counsel, however. Just last year, the government tried to restrict access to detainees whose petitions challenging their imprisonment were either denied or dismissed. Also, there was a reduction in flights to Guantanamo Bay, causing a two-month delay in lawyers’ visits to their clients.

 “The motivation for the searches is not to enhance security but to deter counsel access,” Lamberth wrote. He continued, writing that the government, “seemingly at every turn, has acted to deny or to restrict Guantanamo detainee’s access to counsel.”

If Lamberth’s ruling is successfully enforced, it could open the door to future rulings forcing the government to stop the suspension of habeas corpus for Guantanamo prisoners.

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Heather Hartlaub

Heather is a recent grad from St. Lawrence University with a degree in Middle Eastern History and Arabic. Raised around the world as a military brat, she loves foreign policy, kebseh, and crossword puzzles.

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