Bradley Manning takes stand, puts military captors on trial
By Nathan Fuller, December 23, 2012.
Spanning nearly three weeks and comprising more than a dozen witnesses, the Article 13 hearing on the defense’s motion to dismiss based on unlawful punishment was PFC Bradley Manning’s longest pretrial hearing yet. The defense has moved to throw out all charges against the WikiLeaks whistleblower, arguing that the military has violated the UCMJ’s Article 13, which prohibits pretrial punishment. Through testimony from prison guards, high-ranking military officials, and Bradley himself, defense lawyer David Coombs chronicled Bradley’s eleven months in solitary confinement, focusing on the nine months in the Quantico Marine brig, from July 29, 2010, through April 20, 2011.
Earlier in July, three-star General George Flynn emailed the Quantico chain of command, notifying officials of Bradley’s impending arrival and explaining that he believed Bradley was a suicide risk. When Manning got to the brig, he was evaluated and determined to need only medium security. But the Duty Brig Supervisor, likely influenced by Gen. Flynn’s directive, overrode that determination and placed Manning on Suicide Risk (SR) watch. From then on, Manning was on SR or Prevention of Injury (POI) watch throughout his entire imprisonment at Quantico. Gen. Flynn was updated weekly on Manning’s treatment.
At Quantico Bradley was in a 6×8 ft cell for 23 hours a day, got only 20 minutes of sunshine daily for his first six months, had to eat alone in his cell, wore metal shackles on his arms and legs whenever he left it, couldn’t talk to other detainees, was monitored verbally every few minutes and visually around the clock, and had to ask guards to use books, soap, or even toilet paper.
Coombs described the impact of these conditions in his only public appearance, on December 3: “Brad’s treatment at Quantico will forever be etched into our nation’s history as a disgraceful moment in time.”
Bradley details abusive confinement
We finally heard the young Army private we’ve been supporting for two and a half years, who turned out to be articulate, intelligent, and remarkably poised for someone who survived nearly a year of solitary confinement. On the stand for several hours over two days, Bradley chronicled his experience since arrest, from his harrowing trauma in Kuwait, to his exhaustive efforts to end his restrictive conditions in Quantico, to his much-improved status in Fort Leavenworth.
In Kuwait, Bradley was isolated in a tiny metal cell, which made him feel disoriented and “trapped.” He couldn’t talk to anyone else, and no one explained what was happening to him. Forced to sleep during the day and work at night, and placed in a “shark attack environment” by guards, in which they give conflicting orders so that everything he did was wrong, Bradley had an anxiety attack and passed out.
“I had pretty much given up,” he said. “I thought I was going to die in this 8×8 animal cage.”
Guards said they found two nooses in his cell, only one of which Bradley vaguely remembered making. He said he’d known a noose was futile, as he had no place to hang it. When he boarded a plane to leave Kuwait, he prayed he was going to Germany but expected to land in Guantanamo.
When he got to the Marine brig in Virginia, the psychiatrist at the time, Captain William Hocter, recommended Bradley be placed on SR for his first week, to monitor his acclimation. He then advised reducing his status to POI on August 6, 2010, but brig commander and Chief Warrant Officer (CWO) James Averhart didn’t reduce it until August 11. CWO Abel Galaviz, head of Marine corrections, later testified that this delay was a violation of Navy regulations.
Bradley was then placed on POI, so he endured nearly all of the restrictions imposed on suicidal detainees – the only discernable difference being that Suicide Risk required the psychiatrists’ approval. Still a maximum-security detainee, he remained on lockdown, with metal shackles for his 20 minutes of daylight, and as a “self-harm risk” he still had to ask for the most basic personal items.
A fluorescent light blared into Bradley’s cell at all times, but at night he wasn’t allowed to cover his face. If guards couldn’t see his face, they’d wake him up – often multiple times a night.
Quantico ignored mental health professionals
Nearly every single week, brig psychiatrists implored top officials to remove Bradley from these conditions, avowing both that there was no psychiatric need for his isolation and that his treatment was worsening his mental health. Yet Quantico’s brig commanders – first Chief Warrant Officer James Averhart, then CWO Denise Barnes – kept him on SR or POI, both maximum-security classifications, for his entire time in the brig.
In mid-January, Cpt. Hocter pressed Quantico’s Battalion Commander, Col. Oltman, on the matter, saying Bradley had no mental-health reason to remain on POI and that he’d never been ignored like this before. Col. Oltman told him to make his recommendation and that Bradley would be kept on POI regardless. Testimony on his wording varies, but Cpt. Hocter recalls Col. Oltman saying that Bradley would be kept on POI “indefinitely.”
CWOs Averhart and Barnes cited Bradley’s trauma in Kuwait, “poor” communication with brig staff, “erratic” behaviors in his cell, and the severity of his charges to justify keeping him on POI. But these issues were all examined, reviewed, and cleared by mental health professionals. Guards said his behaviors were normal for a bored prisoner, and doctors said he wasn’t at risk to himself.
In countering the defense’s motion, government prosecutors focused almost solely on Bradley’s physical health – noting that Bradley did make it to his court-martial alive, and at one point asking Quantico guards, “Did he get three hot meals a day?” – evincing serious negligence of Bradley’s psychological well-being.
This negligence echoed that of Quantico officials. Guards monitored every Bradley’s move, but did they ever care how isolation affected him? Didn’t they realize that forcing him to ask for toilet paper was dehumanizing?
In his closing argument, Coombs said, “If the Quantico brig could have put him in a straightjacket in a padded room and not had anybody complain, they would have.”
CWO Barnes said that if something happened to Bradley, she wouldn’t have retirement options to fall back on. GYSGT Blenis said that if Bradley hurt himself, it’d be Blenis facing a court-martial.
“They were more concerned with how [their actions] would appear to the Marine Corps and Quantico than if Manning was at risk of self-harm,” Coombs said.
This negligence of Bradley’s mental health is tantamount to punishment. Bradley endured nine months of solitary confinement, weeks of that including forced nudity at night, regardless of the guards’ intentions. If Judge Denise Lind recognizes this punishment, she’ll have to dismiss Manning’s charges, or at least give him credit at sentencing.