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Federal judges reinstate Guantanamo groin searches

| Wednesday, July 17, 2013, 9:24 p.m.

A federal appeals court is allowing Guantanamo guards to resume searching detainees' genitals on their way to and from legal meetings while the Obama administration challenges a federal judge's ruling that the searches unfairly impede attorney-client meetings.

The order on Wednesday by a three-judge panel at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit capped 24 hours of legal wrangling: The Justice Department asked a New York lawyer to let guards search her client's privates, the lawyer refused and the Southern Command's top general joined the fray with a sworn declaration that a federal judge got it wrong.

Groin searches aren't intended to prevent legal meetings, said Southcom's Marine Corps Gen. John F. Kelly, noting that his Guantanamo soldiers similarly search captives meeting with Red Cross delegates.

Past practice of shaking a captive's trousers to see if “nails, shanks, ragged scraps of metal” fall out “posed an unacceptable risk to the safety and security of detainees and guards,” Kelly said.

Last week, detainee lawyers convinced U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth that the invasive searches, adopted amid a widespread hunger strike, were discouraging some of Guantanamo's 166 captives from voluntarily leaving their cells for meetings with their lawyers. Lamberth ordered the guards to stop it, and resume the practice of physically shaking the waistband of the pants of a prisoner to see whether any contraband comes out.

The latest legal move occurs as the prison camps reported that it had 46 hunger-striking captives designated for forced-feedings on Wednesday.

Army Lt. Col. Samuel House said the prison counted a total of 78 prisoners as hunger strikers, down from a record 106 on the eve of Ramadan.

Navy medical staff listed 46 as having health conditions sufficiently at risk to require twice-daily trips to a restraint chair and nasogastric feedings if they refused to voluntarily drink nutritional supplements. Three hunger strikers were at the prison camps hospital, House said, none with “any life-threatening conditions.”

Pro-bono defense lawyers who last week won the court order preventing the practice reacted with fury.

“Doesn't the government have more important things to do than defend its right to grope detainees?” said attorney David Remes in Washington.

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