Court upholds new Guantanamo policy involving regular searches of detainees' anal areas
Detention facility at the US Naval Station in Guantanamo Bay (AFP)

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. appeals court on Friday upheld the Obama administration's new policy of search procedures at Guantanamo Bay that detainees had challenged saying invasive practices such as frisking of their anal and groin areas discourage them from consulting with their lawyers.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reversed an earlier court ruling that favored the detainees. The appeals court said the administration's search policy, as well as a rule restricting the location of detainees' meetings with lawyers, are both "reasonable security precautions."

David Muraskin, an attorney for the detainees, criticized the court, saying it had shown "disregard for the rights of Guantanamo detainees."

A Pentagon spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment.

The U.S. military holds just under 150 foreign captives at the detention camp on the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base in Cuba. The detainees are suspected militants, most of whom were captured in Afghanistan following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

Detainees are searched before they are taken from their cells to buildings for meetings or phone calls with their lawyers, and after they return. Before the new search policy was introduced in May 2013, a less invasive procedure was used to avoid appearing disrespectful to the detainees' cultural or religious sensitivities.

The other policy challenged by the detainees requires that all meetings with lawyers be held at a secure facility. To get there, detainees must be moved by van from the camps where they are housed.

In July 2013, a district judge ruled for the detainees, saying both policies would restrict detainee access to their lawyers.

The appeals court rejected that conclusion, with the three-judge panel ruling unanimously that the government's actions were justified on security grounds.

"The tenuous evidence of an improper motive to obstruct access to counsel in this case cannot overcome the legitimate, rational connection between the security needs of Guantanamo Bay and thorough searches of detainees," Judge Thomas Griffith wrote in the opinion.

The case is Hatim, et al v. Obama, U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, No. 13-5218.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh)