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U.S. court upholds Guantanamo detainee search policy

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. appeals court on Friday upheld the Obama administration's new search procedures for Guantanamo Bay detainees, rejecting the argument that invasive practices such as frisking of anal and groin areas discouraged consultation with defense lawyers.

In reversing a 2013 federal court ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit described the new search policy and a restriction on the location of detainees' meetings with lawyers as "reasonable security precautions."

"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, which was unanimous.

David Muraskin, an attorney for three detainees who challenged the legality of the new security policy, said the appeals court had shown "disregard for the rights of Guantanamo detainees."

The ruling by the three-judge panel came just over a year after a federal district judge found that the security measures, which were introduced last year and in 2012 respectively, would restrict detainees' access to their lawyers.

The approximately 150 foreign detainees held by the U.S. military at its Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba are searched before being taken from their cells to buildings for meetings or phone calls with their lawyers, and after they return.

A less invasive procedure had been used prior to May 2013 to avoid appearing disrespectful to the cultural or religious sensitivities of the detainees, most of whom were captured in Afghanistan following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

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.

Lieutenant Colonel Myles Caggins, the Pentagon's spokesman for detainee policy, said the ruling on Friday "provides additional flexibility to ensure the security of our troops and the detainees."

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 and Paul Simao)

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