Private First Class Bradley Manning’s defense team is constructing a record of prejudice leading to “unlawful pre-trial punishment” of the accused whistle-blower during a pre-trial hearing at Fort Meade, Maryland. Daniel Choike, the former Quantico commander recommended, that Quantico was not appropriate as a detention venue.
On Wednesday morning the court learnt that concern about the way Manning was being treated within the Quantico brig reached high levels within the military. An email was read out from Lieutenant Colonel Wright, the most senior expert on corrections issues within the Marines.
He wrote to the commander of the brig to express his “concerns about recent decisions”, in particular the removal on 2 March 2011 of Manning’s underpants at night. Wright pointed out that the move was a contradiction – it treated Manning as if he were a suicide risk, and yet he had not actually been placed under a suicide risk order. “This is not the way we do business,” Wright wrote.
Despite his reprimand, the chief warrant officer at the brig, Denise Barnes, continued to remove the soldier’s underwear every night for the next six weeks, until his transfer to a lesser-security regime at Fort Leavenworth on 20 April 2011.
The morning was taken up with defence questioning of Robert Oltman, Quantico’s security battalion commander in charge of the brig. Like Choike’s earlier testimony, Oltman expressed his disatisfaction that Manning had been placed in Quantico in the first place, given the parlous state of its brig.
“We indicated we didn’t think our facility was the best for his detainment. It was supposed to be closed, it was not in the best of conditions, it needed repair,” he said.
The testimony throws into a new light the events at Quantico during Manning’s nine-month incarceration. His treatment under a so-called “prevention of injury” order, or PoI, has become a cause célèbre for his supporters, who believe that the soldier was subjected to unlawful pre-trial punishment in an attempt to squeeze him for information that might prove useful in any ensuing prosecution of WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange.
The first medical witness so far expressed shock about PFC Manning’s “treatment”.
Manning’s defence lawyers are attempting to have the charges thrown out or any eventual sentence reduced by seeking to prove that the soldier was subjected to unlawful pre-trial punishment at Quantico. During the nine months he was in custody at the marine base in Virginia he was put on suicide watch and a “prevention of injury” order, or PoI, that kept him in solitary confinement and exposed him to extreme conditions that were denounced by the UN and Amnesty International as a form of torture.
Hoctor began treating Manning from the day after he arrived at Quantico on 29 July 2010, seeing him initially every day and then later once a week. At first he recommended that the soldier be put on suicide watch – the most stringent form of custody – given that he had mentioned killing himself while previously held in Kuwait and that nooses that he had made were found in his cell.
But within a week of seeing Manning he changed his recommendation, reporting to officers that in his medical opinion the soldier could be put on the lesser PoI status. His advice was ignored for a couple of weeks, Hoctor told the court. “At Quantico they often did not immediately follow, or sometimes did not follow at all, my recommendations.”
The failure to act on the doctor’s recommendation was an apparent violation of the instructions under which marine installations operate. The regulations state that “when prisoners are no longer considered to be suicide risks by a medical officer, they shall be returned to appropriate quarters.”
By 27 August 2010, Hoctor testified, he had spent enough time with Manning to recommend a further easing of conditions. From then on he advised in a regular weekly report that Manning should be taken off PoI altogether and returned to the general brig population.
“I was satisfied he no longer presented a risk. He did not appear to be persistently depressed, he was not reporting suicidal thoughts, in general he was well behaved.”
Specifically, Hoctor was convinced that Manning no longer needed to be subjected to restrictive conditions that included: no contact with other people, being kept in his cell for more than 23 hours a day, being checked every five minutes, sleeping on a suicide mattress with no bedding, having his prescription glasses taken away, lights kept on at night, having toilet paper removed.
Only on two occasions did Hoctor report that Manning appeared upset and should be put temporarily under close observation. The first incident occurred in December 2010 when Fox News erroneously reported that Manning had died, and the second in January 2011 when the soldier broke down in tears while in the exercise room.
Yet the psychiatrist’s recommendation that other than these isolated incidents Manning should be treated like other inmates was consistently ignored. The soldier was kept on PoI throughout the rest of his time at Quantico.
I’m sure, like the Petraeus scandal, that a short-sighted, imprudent application of loyalty will trump justice in the Manning case.