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Lawyers: Abusive Cavity Searches at Gitmo Designed to Quell Ongoing Hunger Strike

'The prisoners do not need to be sexually assaulted in order to be taken to a telephone to talk to their lawyer,' say lawyers

Jacob Chamberlain, staff writer

Yemenis hold protest demanding the release of inmates on hunger strike, on April 16, 2013 outside the US embassy in Sanaa. (AFP)

In the latest news from Guantanamo Bay, detainees' lawyers are saying that the prisoners are now being forced to undergo intrusive body cavity searches before they can speak to their lawyers.

In a letter to British foreign secretary William Hague that was seen by the Guardian, Clive Stafford Smith, who represents several detainees in Guantanamo, said that detainees are routinely subjected to cavity searches before they can meet with their lawyers. In addition, they are also subjected to the search before they can even make a phone call—rendering any "safety" or "contraband" justifications void.

Smith writes:

The US military has started directly abusing prisoners who want to contact their lawyers to tell them what is happening. So anyone who wants to see a lawyer, or have a legal phone call, must have his fingers put up his anus and his genitals touched.

Smith writes that the tactic is used to silence the prisoners' protest—an effective hunger strike that has garnered widespread media attention and growing criticism of the indefinite detention and torture undergone by the prisoners.

And the new tactic is working to some degree. Already, two of Smith's clients and at least one other prisoner have refused to go through with the search—consequently missing chances to talk to their lawyers.

"Any pretext given for these new rules is just that: a pretext. The prisoners do not need to be sexually assaulted in order to be taken to a telephone to talk to their lawyer," Smith wrote.

The reports match earlier reporting by Agence-France Presse, the Guardian notes.

The U.S. military has repeatedly denied these claims. However, Navy Cpt. Robert Durand, a Guantanamo spokesman, told Al Jazeera on Tuesday that new search procedures were introduced about two weeks ago, allegedly to prevent  “contraband” in the detention camps.

"We call it a full frisk pat down," he said, denying that the searches went as far as the attorneys claim.


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However, David Remes, a Washington, DC-based human rights attorney who represents over a dozen Yemeni prisoners, told Al Jazeera the tactics went far beyond "patting down" and were designed for “religious humiliation”—an obvious strategy meant to put an end to the hunger strike which has spread to almost all of the prisoners and has reached its fourth month. This new tactic comes in addition to force-feeding techniques, which are regarded by the UN as a form of torture.

Al Jazeera reports:

The policy was enacted in the aftermath of an April 13 pre-dawn raid on the communal Camp 6, in which hunger-striking prisoners were isolated in what appears to have been an attempt to bring an end to the protest.

Durand maintains the military's denial that the increase in abusive practices, such as the prison raid, are connected to the hunger strike.

"This [cavity search] is a disgusting tactic," said Remes. "But at the same time it shows the military's complete frustration in the face of the men's determination. Its previous efforts have failed. In fact, the more pressure the military has applied and the more punishments it's inflicted, the more determined the men have become.

In addition, earlier this week the ACLU joined a human rights coalition of 19 other organizations, including Center for Constitutional Rights, Human Rights Watch, Physicians for Human Rights and Witness Against Torture, to oppose force-feeding in Guantanamo.

The coalition sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel stating their opposition to the tactics used against the detainees:

We write to request that you intervene to end the force-feeding of competent hunger-striking prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, which constitutes cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. We also urge you to investigate and address recent allegations of the use of excessive force, isolation, temperature manipulation, and forced sleeplessness in Guantanamo, which could also constitute cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, and which raise even greater concerns if applied in combination with force-feeding. [...]

we urgently request that you order the immediate and permanent cessation of all force-feeding of Guantanamo prisoners who are competent and capable of forming a rational judgment as to the consequences of refusing food. We request that you allow independent medical professionals to review and monitor the status of hunger-striking prisoners in a manner consistent with international ethical standards. We also request that you investigate and rectify any abusive conditions and treatment in addition to force-feeding.


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