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Delay Excuses in Manning Case Fail to Placate

FORT MEADE, Md. (CN) - The former convening authority overseeing Bradley Manning's court-martial testified Thursday that he never questioned or denied requests to pause the 120-day speedy trial clock to continue the investigation of Manning's alleged disclosures to WikiLeaks.

Prosecutors flew in Col. Carl Coffman from Afghanistan to defend the time the government took to build a case against Manning.

Today is Manning's 900th day in pretrial confinement.

Arrested in May 2010, Manning stepped inside a courtroom for the first time a year and a half later for an Article 32 hearing, the military equivalent of a grand jury.

The government prepared a 231-page chronology of the events that delayed the trial.

One prosecutor, Capt. Hunter White, handed Coffman a thick binder of events in the case. Coffman fished out his glasses and inspected them for hours in a direct examination.

Toward the end, White asked, "So you considered the considered the rights of the accused?"

"We considered the rights of the accused from the beginning," Coffman said.

But he acknowledged under cross-examination that he took no action to urge prosecutors toward speedy trial goals.

Coffman started filing monthly excludable delay memoranda on Oct. 12, 2010, listing reasons for continuing delays.

Coffman said that prosecutors wrote up "essentially the same" documents month after month, and he combed them for typographical errors before signing them.

"You might have noticed a period out of place?" asked David Coombs, Manning's lead attorney.

"Period, punctuation," Coffman replied.

Coffman said his discussions with prosecutors typically lasted 10 to 15 minutes. He said they never provided him with an estimated completion date, and he did not ask for one.

He said he never raised questions when original classification authorities, or OCAs, who determine the status of confidential information, told him they needed more time to pore through files.

"You were again trusting of the trial counsel, and you were trusting of the OCAs doing what they're supposed to be doing," Coombs said.

"That's correct," Coffman said.

Manning's defense team opposed most of the government delays, but they also requested a few of their own.

On July 11, 2010, Manning's lawyers asked to pause the clock to have their client assessed by a sanity board to see whether he was ready to stand trial.

Prosecutors claimed that Manning tried to commit suicide in Kuwait, shortly after he was arrested.

They cited this to justify keeping him in long-term isolation at a Marine brig in Quantico, Va., under conditions that the U.N. special rapporteur on torture called "cruel, degrading and inhuman."

Coombs wrote in a brief that Manning's mental health improved shortly before his transfer to Quantico, and that officials there ignored staff recommendations to place him in the general population.

Coffman said it took several months to find three doctors with TS/SCI, or Top Secret Sensitive Compartmented Information, security clearances.

On top of these clearances, Manning could only be interviewed inside a SCIF, or Secure Compartmented Information Facility.

Coombs asked if Coffman could have streamlined this process by finding doctors who already had credentials or by finding another secure facility. Coffman agreed this was possible.

These sessions took place on weekends to avoid press scrutiny, Coffman said.

"He's accused of something," he said. "He didn't need to be exposed to the media attention."

The doctors eventually found that Manning was of "sound mind," Coffman said.

He laid some of the blame for the delays on extensive planning for security, public affairs and other logistical concerns to prepare the Ft. Meade military base for Manning's Article 32 hearing.

"We had an operation plan, an op-plan, in effect, which we called 'op-plan bravo,'" he said. "The [Military District of Washington] wrote the op-plan. So they're the support plan units."

Coffman said he was "sure we could have" put the plan into effect by Nov. 16, 2011, but it did not get off the ground until the Article 32 hearing arrived a month later.

As Coffman's daylong grilling drew to a close, the military judge, Col. Denise Lind, asked when he would consider a delay too long.

"Was there any time at some point that I'd say, at some point, we've got to go?" she asked.

"If you're asking if I had a specific hard date on the wall, no, Your Honor, I did not," he said. "There is still potentially information out there that we don't know."

The defense will call its own speedy trial witnesses in December.

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