WASHINGTON -- A federal judge on Thursday called a halt to genital pat-downs of Guantánamo Bay detainees who are meeting with attorneys.
In a sharply worded rebuke, U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth said the intrusive search policy flagrantly disregards the need for a light touch on religious and cultural matters.
Lamberth added that the searches undermine President Barack Obamas own declarations. The search procedures discourage meetings with counsel and so stand in stark contrast to the presidents insistence on judicial review for every detainee, Lamberth wrote. The court, whose duty it is to call the jailer to account, will not countenance the jailers interference with detainees access to counsel.
Lamberths 35-page opinion also will allow detainees who are weak due to hunger strikes to meet with their attorneys in their housing camps, instead of being transported to a central facility. It mandates that detainees who are transported must be given enough space to sit upright.
The ruling came as a surprise at U.S. Southern Command in Miami, where Marine Gen. John F. Kelly has oversight of the Guantánamo prison. Army Col. Greg Julian, a spokesman, said the chain of command including Gen. Kelly will review the procedures to figure out how to accommodate the ruling.
Julian defended the searches as a necessary security measure following last years suicide by overdose of a Yemeni detainee, Adnan Latif. From Dubai, Latifs attorney, David Remes, said the judge's order was a great opinion. The government didn't just lose but actually lost ground. He was on his return to the United States from meeting families of Guantánamo detainees in Yemen.
It will certainly ease the burdens weve been facing on access, said Pardiss Kebriaei, a senior staff attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights, which is among the groups representing Guantánamo detainees.
Lamberths ruling was the second judicial decision this week to spotlight the presidents role in keeping Guantánamo open.
On Monday, in a separate case, U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler called the force-feeding of hunger-striking Guantánamo detainees a painful, humiliating and degrading process. While Kessler said she was powerless to take action, she pinpointed Obama as the one individual who does have the authority to address the issue.
Lamberth, likewise, put Obama front and center Thursday, as the 69-year-old Vietnam War veteran led off by citing the presidents assertion May 23 that judicial review be available for every detainee.
This matter concerns whether the presidents insistence on judicial review may be squared with the actions of his commanders in charge of the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Lamberth wrote. Currently, it cannot.
The ruling came as the prison described things as settling down into a peaceful Ramadan routine after a long period of turmoil.
Two captives quit their hunger strike, according to the military on Thursday, reporting the first decline this year in the prison camps food strike. No detainee threw bodily fluids at a guard for at least 24 hours, said Navy Capt. Robert Durand, and no soldiers tackled and shackled a captive to force him out of cell during the same time period.