Will full-body scanners replace some genital searches at Guantanamo?
Giving new meaning to the military’s motto of transparent detention, the Guantánamo Bay war-on-terror prison is shopping for devices to conduct full-body scans at its outpost in southeast Cuba.
The prison has invited businesses to bid on delivery of two full-body, low-dose X-ray scanners capable of detecting “concealed threats or contraband.”
Its solicitation says 50 to 75 people would be screened daily by the mobile devices to be kept at Camp Echo — a series of cells inside huts where lawyers meet their clients across the street from the two main prison buildings. Before meeting with his lawyer, each captive is subjected to a full-body pat-down, including a genital search, and his ankle is shackled to a bolt on the floor.
The military also uses Camp Echo for occasional meetings between captives and court-appointed physicians consulting on their cases, and for International Red Cross video visits that some of the prisoners are allowed to have with their families. Each of those interactions also starts and finishes with guards searching captives’ genitals.
Left unclear in the solicitation is whether the prison is seeking alternatives to the physical searches conducted by specially trained teams of troops set up a year ago as the prisoners’ hunger strike drew participation by more than 100 detainees, 46 of them force-fed on a single day.
At the U.S. Southern Command, which oversees the prison, Army Col. Greg Julian said the proposed purchase is “designed to give the commander more options.”
Late Monday, the prison’s new spokesman, Navy Capt. Tom Gresback, likened the system being sought to a civilian airport scanner.
He offered no price range for the acquisition — which requires installation and operational sessions at Camp Echo later this year — and said the devices would “be used for the purpose of screening visitors” at the sprawling detention center.
The military issued the first version of its solicitation May 23, weeks after a Saudi prisoner refused to leave his cell for a parole board meeting — a centerpiece of the Obama administration’s Guantánamo closure policy. A U.S. military officer assigned to advocate for his release blamed the “ humiliating and degrading” practice of having a guard “touch the area near his genitals.”
Defense lawyers argue that the prison instituted the policy of frisking prisoners’ genitals last year to punish them for the ongoing, now hidden hunger strike at Guantánamo and to discourage detainees from leaving their cells for meetings or telephone calls with their attorneys.
In July 2013, U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth appeared to agree in a ruling that concluded the searches interfere with the attorney-client relationship. The U.S. District Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit heard arguments in December but has yet to issue a decision.
In the meantime, defense lawyer David Remes said, “Guards are still doing the humiliating searches, and detainees are still refusing to see their lawyers or have outside calls.”
Guantánamo’s spokesmen have in recent months refused to discuss camp procedures, but say the guards adhere to their motto of “safe, human, legal, transparent” detention.
The proposed purchase also comes at at time of transition at the prison camps where about 2,200 troops and U.S. government contractors work at the prison complex with 149 captives.
The officer who oversaw the new search policy, Army Col. John V. Bogdan, ended his two-year tour of duty as guard-force commander and was replaced by Army Col. David E. Heath, another career military police officer. Navy Rear Adm. Richard Butler, turns over command of the prison operation to Rear Adm. Kyle Cozad this week. Cozad becomes the 14th commander of the detention center that the Bush administration set up with a temporary, rotating guard force in January 2002.
The concept of using airport-style scanners at Guantánamo prison is not new.
Guards routinely used hand-held wands to search for metal in the clothing of attorneys and journalists. At Camp Justice, guards have a Body Orifice Security Scanner labeled BOSS to inspect former CIA prisoners — as they come and go from pretrial capital proceedings at the war court.
Now, according to the prison’s June 24 update on the contract, the military intends to use a similar system on everyone coming and going from Camp Echo — apparently prisoners in shackles as well as troops and other visitors.
“Vendor must provide shipping, installation, and on-site training,” the bid invitation states.
Next month, the military will show the proposed site to prospective Pentagon contractors invited to the base for a three-night stay and put up at their expense at the $50-a-night guest quarters for officers and other visitors.