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Monday, June 24, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Court-Martial Hearing Ends|With Secret Samaritan’s Tale

FT. MEADE, Md. (CN) - An army captain who risked reprimand to give Pfc. Bradley Manning a cupcake on his birthday last year was the last to testify at a hearing investigating "unlawful pretrial punishment."

Manning, an alleged source for WikiLeaks, could face decades or up to life in prison if convicted of 22 charges related to the largest intelligence disclosure in U.S. history.

If he persuades a military judge, Col. Denise Lind, that he was mistreated at a Marine Corps prison at Quantico, Va., he could get charges dismissed, or credit toward a reduced sentence.

For nearly three weeks, Manning's lead attorney David Coombs has argued that the brig's orders to place Manning in maximum confinement, prevention of injury watch and suicide watch were abusive and unnecessary.

Prosecutors claim those orders were for Manning's protection, as he had attempted suicide in Kuwait, where he was held briefly before his transfer.

The government's last witness, Capt. Joseph Casamatta, testified Monday as the evidence phase of the Quantico hearings closed.

Manning described Capt. Casamatta as "awesome" when he took the stand a week and a half ago.

A military spokesman gave Courthouse News some context for Manning's remark.

Manning spent his 24th birthday, Dec. 17, 2011, in court here, defending himself at an Article 32 hearing, the military equivalent of a grand jury.

Capt. Casamatta gave Manning cupcake to celebrate the occasion, the military spokesman said.

The spokesman said that the birthday treat could have put Casamatta at risk because of Manning's restrictive conditions, but that the captain said he felt comfortable now making his act of kindness public.

On the witness stand, Casamatta said Quantico staffers did not give him the information he needed to contest the conditions of Manning's confinement.

For nine months, Manning spent 23 hours a day or more in an 8-by-6-foot cell watched by two guards.

He spent a few short periods on "Suicide Risk," or SR, forcing him to strip naked at night and use a tear-proof smock, blanket and mattress that he said gave him rashes.

Two Quantico psychologists testified that these measures were unnecessary because Manning's suicidal ideations lifted shortly after his transfer to Quantico.

Casamatta said that Quantico staff never told him about the recommendations.

Judge Lind asked him whether he felt they owed him that explanation.

"I believe I should have been made aware of that," he said. "Yes, ma'am."

Casamatta said he would have contested the SR designation had he known these details.

He shook Manning's hand after he stepped down from the stand at the end of his testimony.

The previous witness, 1st Sgt. Bruce Williams, served as Casamatta's "right arm," military slang for "right hand man," a military spokesman said.

Williams agreed with the lead prosecutor, Maj. Ashden Fein, that he too had a rapport with Manning, who praised the brig staff for their professionalism during his testimony on Nov. 30.

"What concerns did you have about the accused being treated poorly by Quantico officials?" Fein asked.

"None, sir," Williams replied.

Manning testified that his grievances came from the orders the prison staff gave and enforced, not the manner in which soldiers performed them.

On one occasion, Manning grew frustrated with having to wear a suicide prevention smock that his doctors called unnecessary.

Williams said he remembered Manning giving him an uncharacteristically "stern look" about having to wear it.

He scrunched up his face to imitate it.

Smiling, Judge Lind said, "Let the record reflect the witness is making a stern facial expression."

Williams said that look stopped once they stopped using the smock.

Earlier Monday, Quantico's inspector general, Maj. Timothy Zelek, spoke about his more limited interactions with Manning.

Zelek, in charge of investigating ethical breaches on base, had the role of probing the overall functioning of the base, not Manning's treatment in particular.

'The entire inspection took an hour and a half, two hours at most," Zelek said.

"You were not inspecting whether Pfc. Manning was being improperly held in max and suicide risk?" Coombs asked during cross-examination.

He said he was not.

"You were not inspecting to give your seal of approval?" Coombs continued.

"That's correct," Zelek said.

The parties will present closing arguments today (Tuesday).

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