A quote worth recalling when it comes to the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is Nixon Attorney General John Mitchell's: "Watch what we do, not what we say."
In a speech at National Defense University on May 23, President Barack Obama discussed his efforts to close the facility, which he called "a symbol around the world for an America that flouts the rule of law."
Obama quoted the judge who sentenced would-be shoe bomber Richard Reid, saying the way the United States treats detainees "is the measure of our own liberties."
What the president did not discuss, and may not have known, was that on May 22, attorneys for several detainees had filed an emergency motion in Washington arguing that rather than face newly instituted, religiously repugnant groin searches, their clients - many on a hunger strike - were canceling meetings with the lawyers and phone calls to family members.
On July 11, Chief U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth noted Obama's use of "our own liberties" in his opinion, in which, among other things, he barred U.S. guards from continuing the searches.
Since May 3, at least twice or even four times, when a detainee left his cell and returned - always shackled - a guard was required to use a flat hand "to press against the groin to detect anything foreign attached to the body," and again with a flat hand "to frisk the detainee's buttocks to ensure no contraband is hidden there," according to the Lamberth opinion.
The guards were also to wave a handheld wand metal detector over the detainee's entire body, including the groin and buttocks area, keeping the wand about "one to two inches from the detainee's body."
Lamberth said such actions were "religiously and culturally abhorrent" to Muslim detainees.
In 2009, a review team headed by then-Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Patrick M. Walsh found that detainees who'd been told they could leave but had not been released were showing "extreme frustration." Walsh recommended "a humane treatment standard" and "continued interagency process to resolve these detainees' future."
More than four years have passed, and 86 of the present 166 Guantanamo detainees, cleared to go to their home country or another country willing to accept them, remain there. We shouldn't be surprised that there have been riots and, since February, a major hunger strike.
What makes the Mitchell quote relevant is that military lawyers began fighting in court to keep the invasive search techniques despite what their commander in chief had said in his NDU speech.
It's been that way at Guantanamo from the start, when the Bush administration set up the facility as a place outside the United States where detainees would have no rights.
It was established as a "detention facility" rather than as a "corrections facility" because, as Lamberth pointed out, under the Navy's own regulations, those incarcerated at a corrections facility have unconditional access to attorneys; detainees don't.
The Supreme Court has ruled that detainees have the right to challenge their detention.
Federal judges at times have had to take over monitoring Guantanamo prisoner treatment, thanks to detainee lawyers filing motions against some military practices.
Just representing detainees has been a challenge for lawyers. They must obtain security clearances and sign a protective order that requires them to consider every word a detainee says as classified, until cleared by a military censor.
Notes taken in face-to-face conversations with clients are classified until cleared after review in Washington. In addition, flights to and from Guantanamo are limited and that means counsel must now wait for "at least two months before they meet with their clients," the judge noted.
Lamberth said detainee lawyers had shown the new invasive searches were an "exaggerated response" to security concerns and their justification by the government was "unpersuasive."
Back on May 23 Obama said: "Imagine a future - 10 years from now or 20 years from now - when the United States of America is still holding people who have been charged with no crime on a piece of land that is not part of our country. ... Is this who we are? Is that something our Founders foresaw? Is that the America we want to leave our children? Our sense of justice is stronger than that."
Lamberth has done his part. Now it's time for the rest of us to do ours.
Walter Pincus reports on intelligence, defense and foreign policy for The Washington Post and writes the Fine Print column.