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Tuesday, July 16, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Manning Rep Prods Officer’s Spotty Memory

FT. MEADE, Md. (CN) - The lead attorney for alleged WikiLeaks source Bradley Manning turned up pressure on a former Quantico officer to show how high the orders against his client go.

PFC Manning, 24, spent about nine months alone in a windowless, 8-by-6 cell at Quantico, from July 29, 2010, to April 20, 2011, under conditions a United Nations investigator described as "cruel, degrading and inhuman."

While the government insists that they took these measures to protect Manning, the young soldier's lawyers say brig staff defied his clinical diagnosis to place him on pointless and punitive treatment.

If Col. Denise Lind finds "unlawful pretrial punishment," the military judge can reduce or throw out the charges accusing Manning of sending hundreds of thousands of government files to WikiLeaks.

Manning faces 22 charges accusing him of "aiding the enemy," violating the Espionage Act, exceeding access to his computer, stealing documents, and conduct prejudicial to good order and discipline in the armed forces.

His supporters, who have attended every hearing, hail him for shedding light on military and diplomatic malfeasance. They say his actions inspired global reforms.

Readers of The Guardian voted him "Person of the Year" Monday.

As brig officer in charge, Chief Warrant Officer-4 James Averhart put Manning on suicide risk three times.

Suicide watch forced Manning to strip naked, put on a rough smock, and sleep on a special mattress and a blanket. The tear-proof materials allegedly induced rashes.

Averhart's successor, Denise Barnes, explained to the court over the last day and half that she was lower in the chain of command than most brig leadership. Both she and Averhart said they knew the higher-ups were keeping an eye on them.

Younger than Averhart, she said she took her 2011 appointment as a sign of confidence. She now holds the title of inspector general at Marine Corps Base Quantico.

Lead defense attorney David Coombs asked Barnes whether she recalled telling his co-counsel that she would "probably get out with no retirement" if Manning killed himself.

Barnes allegedly said: "So all the things I worked really hard for, for the past 16 years goes down the tubes."

She admitted from the stand that the statement sounded "vaguely" familiar.

Barnes also said that was "shocked" to learn that now-Lt. Gen. George Flynn wanted advance notice of Manning-related decisions.

She testified that Col. Robert Oltman, the security battalion commander at Quantico, and Capt. William Hocter, the brig psychologist, argued in a January 2011 meeting that she observed.

As reproduced in a defense motion, Oltman told Hocter: "Nothing is going to happen to Pfc. Manning on my watch. Nothing's going to change. He won't be able to hurt himself, and he won't be able to get away, and our way of making sure of this is that he will remain on this status indefinitely."

Hocter said he replied: "Sir, I am concerned because if you're going to do that, maybe you want to call it something else, because it's not based on anything from behavioral health."

The "status" referred to in the conversation is prevention of injury watch, or POI, and maximum confinement.

The doctors who handled the majority of Manning's care at Quantico called POI watch unnecessary because he was not suicidal. Manning scored a 5 on a prison intake exam that requires a score of 12 to invoke max status.


Averhart previously testified that Manning let out "a quick chuckle" when jokingly told a guard that he could use the elastic of his underwear if he wanted to kill himself.

A brig psychologist said Manning was simply "intellectualizing" his confinement conditions, but Barnes ordered Manning to strip naked at night for a period in March.

On Friday, Barnes testified she thought he was being serious. She also said detainees do not usually announce such things.

"If someone really wants to commit suicide, they're not going to tell us that," Barnes said.

As an example, she mentioned how the "linebacker from the Kansas City Chiefs," Jovan Belcher, killed his girlfriend, then shot himself without explanation on Dec. 1.

Coombs told her that it was inconsistent to take Manning's underwear remark seriously while maintaining that detainees never announce suicidal intentions.

Barnes, like other witnesses, said Manning volunteered to stand naked one time at "reveille," or morning call.

"I was informed that Manning stood up naked," Barnes said.

She replied in the negative when prosecutor Capt. Alexander von Elten asked whether the Marines encourage such behavior.

Coombs has repeatedly brushed off the allegation as absurd.

Under cross-examination, she, like the other witnesses, agreed that detainees who chose to be nude would quickly have been ordered to dress.

She also contradicted doctor's orders when another brig psychologist, Col. Ricky Malone, decided that Manning could be weaned off anti-anxiety medication.

"I am looking at someone who is not an out-patient who is in the friggin Brig, so that alone will add to his stress/depression especially once the pace of the legal proceedings pick up," she wrote in an email to her supervisor, Col. Oltman. "It will only get worse once the true weight of his legal situation/future hits him."

Defense motions say that Barnes and other staff played "half-doctor," instead of listening to medical advice.

Though Col. Malone diagnosed Manning's anxiety "in remission," there was no check beside the "apparently stable mental condition" box on a March 18, 2011, Classification and Assignment, or C&A, form.

Barnes testified that the box would be relevant only if the board considered reducing his confinement to medium custody, the lowest available at Quantico.

The prison closed under international criticism as reports of solitary confinement and forced nudity trickle out to the press.

Coombs asked Barnes a series of questions about solitary confinement, referring to Senate testimony from Prof. Craig Haney, who works for the psychology department of the University of California at Santa Cruz.

Describing typical conditions, Haney told the Senate: "The units all have in common the fact that the prisoners who are housed inside them are confined on average 23 hours a day in typically windowless or nearly windowless cells that commonly range in dimension from 60 to 80 square feet. The ones on the smaller side of this range are roughly the size of a king-sized bed, one that contains a bunk, a toilet and sink, and all of the prisoner's worldly possessions. Thus, prisoners in solitary confinement sleep, eat, and defecate in their cells, in spaces that are no more than a few feet apart from one another."

When Coombs asked if Manning's cell actually measured smaller than 60 to 80 square feet, Barnes replied, "If you want to do the math that way."

Coombs countered that "mathematics is not opinion."

Repeating the official Department of Defense position, Barnes denied U.S. prisons practice solitary confinement.

"That's because 'solitary confinement' doesn't sound good, right?" Coombs asked.

Barnes countered that "it doesn't exist in the DoD corrections."

A New Yorker article called "Hell Hole" describes the growing movement of human rights groups and psychologists to define long-term isolation as torture.

High-ranking Quantico officials kept a close eye on the brig's image through a military newsletter called the "Early Bird," summarizing stories in the press.

One edition highlighted a New York Daily News editorial making light of Manning's treatment as "hardly waterboarding."

Gen. Flynn sent the story down in an email chain.

One news story had falsely accused Quantico of practicing waterboarding.

Calling the reports disturbing, Barnes said, "I don't enjoy reading this."

She said that the brig staff did their work professionally.

Coombs countered by citing a string of emails in which staff made demeaning comments about Manning, referring to removing his "panties" on suicide watch and describing weekly reports as the "Manning Times."

Barnes relied: "I don't take this crap lightly. It's not professional. We know that."

She said the emails were not representative.

"I frigging take it personal when people say I have something against Manning or any other detainee," she said.

"I'm a wife," she added later. "I'm a mother. I take my position very seriously."

"I apologize if I'm getting heated, but at the end of the day, I have someone to answer to," she continued. "So I don't take it personally against any detainee."

Hearings continue this afternoon with testimony from a former Quantico inspector general who was responsible for probing ethical violations.

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