By Lawrence Hurley
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. judge on Thursday invalidated a new military policy dealing with searches of detainees at Guantanamo Bay before and after their meetings or phone calls with attorneys.
Judge Royce Lamberth of the U.S. District Court in Washington, said the search procedures, in place since May, "actively discourage petitioners from taking phone calls or meeting with counsel."
The U.S. military holds 166 foreign captives at the detention camp on the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base in Cuba.
The searches, which include frisking of the groin and anal areas, are conducted on detainees before they are taken from their cells to buildings for meetings or phone calls with their lawyers, and after they return.
Previously, a less invasive search procedure was used to avoid appearing disrespectful toward the detainees' cultural or religious sensitivities, the judge said.
Detainees Mahmoud al Shubati, Fadhel Hussein Saleh Hentif and Saeed Mohammed Saleh Hatim had all complained about the policy, saying it unlawfully inhibited their right to speak with their lawyers.
Lamberth agreed, noting that detainees have said they are searched up to four times during the process.
"The motivation for the searches is not to enhance security but to deter counsel access," he said.
A Pentagon spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Todd Breasseale, said the military is reviewing the decision. "We will of course continue to follow the law," he said.
(Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Xavier Briand)