WASHINGTON - A federal judge called a halt to genital pat-downs of Guantanamo Bay detainees who are meeting with attorneys.
In a sharply worded rebuke, U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth said Thursday that the intrusive search policy "flagrantly disregards the need for a light touch on religious and cultural matters."
Lamberth added that the searches undermine President Obama's own declarations.
"The search procedures discourage meetings with counsel and so stand in stark contrast to the president's insistence on judicial review for every detainee," Lamberth wrote. "The court, whose duty it is to call the jailer to account, will not countenance the jailer's interference with detainees' access to counsel."
Lamberth's 35-page opinion also will allow detainees who are weak due to hunger strikes to meet with their attorneys in their housing camps, instead of being transported to a central facility. It mandates that detainees who are transported must be given enough space to sit upright.
"It will certainly ease the burdens we've been facing on access," said Pardiss Kebriaei, a senior staff attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights, which is among the groups representing Guantanamo detainees.
Lamberth's ruling was the second judicial decision this week to spotlight the president's role in keeping Guantanamo open.
On Monday, in a separate case, U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler called the force-feeding of hunger-striking Guantanamo detainees a "painful, humiliating and degrading process." While Kessler said she was powerless to take action, she pinpointed Obama as "the one individual who does have the authority to address the issue."
Lamberth, likewise, put Obama front and center Thursday, as the 69-year-old Vietnam War veteran led off by citing the president's assertion May 23 that "judicial review be available for every detainee."
"This matter concerns whether the president's insistence on judicial review may be squared with the actions of his commanders in charge of the military prison at Guantanamo Bay," Lamberth wrote. "Currently, it cannot."
Guantanamo holds 166 detainees, of whom 104 are reported to be engaged in hunger strikes. Forty-five of the hunger-strikers are being force-fed twice a day through tubes inserted into their nostrils.