A federal appeals court ruled Wednesday to allow military guards at the prison at Guantanamo Bay to search the genitals of detainees on their way to and from conversations with their lawyers while the Department of Justice appeals an earlier ruling that searches deter the detainees from meeting with legal counsel.
Last week, district Judge Royce Lamberth issued a sharp rebuke to the Obama administration and the military’s Southern Command when he ordered the practice be halted. The searches were instituted by Army Colonel John Bogdan, the detention group’s commander in May, three months after prisoners began a hunger strike there in protest of their continued detention. Lawyers for the detainees have alleged that the searches are being done to humiliate the detainees and discourage them from meeting or speaking with their lawyers.
The military and the government have argued that the searches are necessary because guards had discovered contraband on some prisoners and that earlier, less invasive search procedures would not have been sufficient. The government admitted that none of the contraband materials were actually used against guards.
Tensions have been high at the prison since several detainees began to refuse meals in February in reaction to what they saw as mishandling of their Korans. The hunger strike grew to 106 people, and saw as many as 46 men force-fed through tubes inserted into their noses.
The prisoners were held in isolation from one another from April until the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan, when military officials promised to allow the men to eat and pray together if they agreed not to hunger strike. Currently there are 75 men listed as on hunger strike, with 46 being fed through tubes.
Detainees have tried to stop the force-feeding through the U.S. court system without success; two judges ruled against detainees who brought lawsuits asking for the procedures to be halted, saying they did not have jurisdiction. One of those judges, Gladys Kessler, pointed out in her ruling that President Obama has the authority and power to stop force-feedings, end the hunger strike, and to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay.
Currently, 166 men remain in detention at the facility on the island of Cuba; 86 of those men have been cleared by the Obama administration for transfer or release.