Gen. Kelly, the Southcom commander with oversight of the detention center, joined the fray with a 10-page declaration on the same day he flew to Cuba and installed a 13th prison commander, Rear Adm. Richard Butler, under an annual rotation.
Kelly wrote that “shaking the waistband” was an insufficient security measure in light of the discovery of contraband in the cells of some communal captives earlier this year, as well as the death last year in maximum-security lockdown of a Yemeni captive who overdosed on psychiatric drugs, Adnan Latif.
In his ruling last week, Lamberth concluded that the motivation for the searches was not to enhance security but to deter the detainees’ access to attorneys by implementing search procedures that are “religiously and culturally abhorrent” to devout Muslims.
Lamberth’s ruling had sought to reset the search procedures to an era before Latif’s death. The judge noted that there was no proof that Latif hid the drugs in his genital area.
The general called the judge’s order both a danger and a hardship on the guards among the 2,000-member prison staff, which Southcom has steadily expanded during the five-month-old hunger strike.
“Adding to the burdens already placed on the guard force must be carefully considered,” Kelly wrote, “to ensure that the guard force is not stretched to the point, both individually and collectively, that it cannot effectively carry out its responsibilities.”
The genital search issue became urgent Wednesday because of a long-scheduled 2 p.m. telephone call sought by attorney Jennifer Cowan with a Yemeni client, Hayil al-Mithali, one of the hunger-striking captives who is being force-fed.
A Justice Department official notified Cowan on Tuesday that the government was considering whether to appeal Lamberth’s ruling and that she could only speak with the captive if she consented to having his genitals searched. She did not, and filed an emergency motion to force the military to comply with the civilian court order.
The prison did. Cowan said guards brought Mithali to a phone Wednesday afternoon after the non-invasive search procedure. The captive told her he’s “still being force-fed, only once a day instead of twice a day because of Ramadan.” While they spoke, the court issued the stay — allowing genital searches. Cowan said she did not know how Mithali was searched on his way back to Camp 6, where he has been held.
Prison officials say that, during Ramadan, Camp 6 is a communal camp, off limits to hunger strikers. But Mithali lawyer said he and other hunger strikers are there, according to the captive, periodically “threatened that if they continue to be on hunger strikes, they will be moved to solitary confinement so that they can be more closely monitored.”
Army Lt. Col. Kimeisha McCullum, a Southcom spokeswoman, would not say whether Kelly wrote the declaration while on the base Tuesday, and whether he met with guards or toured the prison during the visit.
Video from the ceremony released by the Defense Department showed it took place at a Navy base social hall, not at the prison itself.
In London, detainee attorney Crider, who works for a non-profit law firm Reprieve, called the refusal to follow Lamberth’s order “contempt of court, pure and simple. Why is it suddenly essential for the government to grope my clients in a way that been off-limits for years?”