Guantánamo reinstates genital searching policy to prevent lawyer-client meetings

October 7, 2015

This week, two clients of international human rights NGO Reprieve chose not to meet their attorneys at Guantánamo due to reinstated genital searches, raising fears that the searches are being used in a deliberate attempt to stop detainees from meeting with their lawyers.

Staff at Guantánamo told Reprieve attorney Cori Crider during her visit this week, that cleared detainee Samir Moqbel refused their meeting because he didn’t want to submit to the genital search. Briton Shaker Aamer also told his Reprieve attorney on an unclassified phone call several days ago: “The judge said they could not do that [genital searches]. So they started to do it again on Friday.”

Guantánamo staff explained in prior filings that the search involved invasive searches of the prisoner’s groin “by placing the guard’s hand as a wedge between the [detainee’s] scrotum and thigh . . . and using [a] flat hand to press against the groin to detect anything foreign attached to the body,” after which a guard “uses a flat hand to frisk the detainee’s buttocks to ensure no contraband is hidden there.”

In 2013, during the height of a mass hunger strike at Guantánamo, the genital searches were the subject of litigation in US federal court, and were eventually discontinued by camp authorities. A judge who ordered the searches should be stopped wrote: “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.”

Both Samir Moqbel and Pakistani Ahmed Rabbani have refused their planned meetings with Reprieve attorneys visiting Guantanamo this week. Both are previous hunger-strikers. Mr Rabbani is currently thought to weigh less than 100 pounds and in recent letters has described his mental and physical deterioration. Because of the searches he is now unlikely to see an attorney. Reprieve lawyers have requested a meeting with the camp Commander to discuss the practice but have so far received no response.

Cori Crider, Reprieve director and counsel to a number of Guantánamo prisoners, said: “After fourteen years of indignity, it’s no surprise that many of my clients aren’t willing to put themselves through the further humiliation of being pointlessly groped by guard staff. This whole policy is plainly an effort to stop Gitmo prisoners meeting their lawyers. For months these men were searched normally and brought to sit with counsel without incident. Yet for no discernible reason the authorities have changed protocol and resumed grabbing my clients’ genitals – it’s degrading, it’s needless, and it unlawfully interferes with these people’s right to consult an attorney.”

Notes to editors

1. For further information, please contact Clemency Wells in Reprieve’s press office – clemency.wells@reprieve.org.uk