(CN) – The suspected source of the biggest leak in U.S. history faced unparalleled pretrial abuse on orders from a three-star general, attorneys for Pfc. Bradley Manning said in a blistering motion to dismiss.
“The defense does not believe that there has ever been such an egregious case of unlawful pretrial punishment in Army history,” lead defense attorney David Coombs wrote. “This court needs to send a message that an unlawful order to keep a pretrial detainee in the equivalent of solitary confinement for almost nine months cannot – and will not – be tolerated.”
Manning, 24, allegedly sent WikiLeaks more than 700,000 files, from an Army base in Iraq where he served as an intelligence specialist before being demoted to private first class.
The documents and videos exposed once-suppressed counts of Iraqi and Afghani civilian fatalities, U.S. diplomats’ candid critiques of purported allies, and footage of a Baghdad airstrike that killed two Reuters employees and 10 other people.
Authorities detained Manning as the suspected source in late May 2010 and sent him days later to Kuwait, where his mental health is said to have deteriorated.
The subsequent transfer of Manning to a now-shuttered Marine Corps brig in Quantico, Va., from July 29, 2010, to April 19, 2011, sparked international outcry, as reports trickled out that he had been forced to spend 23 hours a day in isolation, ordered to strip naked and denied permission to exercise in his windowless, 6-by-8 cell.
U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Mendez called Manning’s treatment “cruel, degrading and inhuman” in an interview with the Guardian, and added that he may have had harsher words if the brig allowed him to visit the soldier without monitoring.
Then-State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley called Manning’s treatment “ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid” at a press conference, and subsequently resigned.
But President Barack Obama, the Pentagon and Quantico officials continued to defend the confinement conditions as necessary to prevent Manning from harming or killing himself.
Manning’s attorneys say nine months of assessments by brig psychologists and prison staff belie that rationale.
The names of the allegedly complicit Quantico staffers are blacked out, along with other material, in the 110-page defense motion, because of classification policies in U.S. court-martial cases.
Coombs revealed on his blog, however, that the “senior brig officer” who sent Manning to maximum-security confinement acted upon the “marching orders” of a three-star general.
On Aug. 3, 2010, an unnamed brig psychiatrist called Manning “courteous, respectful and well-spoken,” and the mental health staff have consistently reached similar conclusions, according to the motion.
Coombs described a telling standoff between Quantico officials and its mental health staff that allegedly occurred on Jan. 13, 2011.
“Nothing is going to happen to PFC Manning on my watch,” a senior officer allegedly told a brig psychiatrist at the meeting. “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.”
According to the motion, the psychiatrist 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 official allegedly replied: “We’ll do whatever we want to do. You [the Brig psychiatrists] make your recommendation and I have to make a decision based on everything else.”
Coombs says that the psychiatrist replied: “Then don’t say it’s based on mental health. You can say it’s MAX custody, but just don’t say that we’re somehow involved in this.”
The officer allegedly said: “That’s what we’re going to do.”
Coombs called the command “a directive reminiscent of ‘A Few Good Men,'” the 1992 courtroom drama about the courts-martial of two Marines who killed a whistle-blowing private first class who flouted the chain of command.
In a footnote, Coombs excerpted the script from the film’s most famous scene, in which a hardened colonel, played by Jack Nicholson, barks, “You can’t handle the truth,” to defend his order that led to the private’s death.
In Manning’s case, a Judge Advocate General staffer “stood mutely by” while the illegal directive was issued, according to the motion.
“It is a particularly sad day when the guardians of the system are the ones failing it,” Coombs wrote.
Five days after this meeting, activists demonstrated outside of Quantico and taped a pair of guards shouting into the crowd: “Quit asking questions!” and “You’re not helping,” the motion states.
Manning says that he found out about the protest only after guards late retaliated against him for it as they led him shackled into the brig’s recreation area.
“When the guards came to PFC Manning’s cell, PFC Manning noticed a change in their usual demeanor,” the motion states. “Instead of being calm and respectful, they seemed agitated and confrontational. Also, instead of the usual two to three guards, there were four guards. Almost immediately, the guards started harassing PFC Manning. The first guard told PFC Manning ‘turn left.’ When he complied, the second guard yelled, ‘don’t turn left.'”
Unable to keep up with their conflicting commands, Manning says he mistakenly responded to their commands with the word “yes,” as he was trained, rather than “aye,” as is customary in the Marines.
“Once the leg restraints were taken off of PFC Manning, he took a step back from the guards,” the motion states. “PFC Manning’s heart was pounding in his chest, and he could feel himself getting dizzy.”
Quantico officials allegedly used this apparent anxiety attack to justify continuing Manning’s “prevention of injury” status, the motion states.
About 30 minutes after this incident, Manning questioned an officer who told him to regard him as, “for all practical purposes, ‘God,'” according to the motion.
“PFC Manning responded by saying, ‘You still have to follow brig procedures,'” the motion states. “PFC Manning also said, ‘everyone has a boss that they have to answer to.’ As soon as PFC Manning said this, [Redacted] ordered that PFC Manning be placed in Suicide Risk.”
Manning says this status forced him to strip down to his underwear and sleep on a rash-inducing mattress and blanket.
The motion contains a five-page transcript of Manning handing his clothes to an unnamed officer, who claimed that the treatment was “not a punitive thing.”
“I understand why someone would see it as a punitive thing because restrictions placed,” the officer allegedly told him before his voice trailed off. “I can tell you that … since you have been here … I wish I had a hundred Mannings.”
According to the motion, Manning lost underwear privileges after joking to the guards that someone could hang himself on the elastic. The soldier’s psychiatrist allegedly defended this statement as Manning “intellectualizing” his conditions.
Quoting a letter from 300 law professors, Coombs claims that Quantico has professed concern for Manning’s safety to punish him before trial, or goad him to inform on the founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange.
“The administration has provided no evidence that Manning’s treatment reflects a concern for his own safety or that of other inmates,” the professors wrote. “Unless and until it does so, there is only one reasonable inference: this pattern of degrading treatment aims either to deter future whistleblowers, or to force Manning to implicate WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in a conspiracy, or both.”
Typically, soldiers facing court-martial can win credit toward a reduced sentence by claiming illegal pre-trial detention at an Article 13 hearing. But Coombs says that such credit would be “illusory” for his client, who faces a possible life sentence for “aiding the enemy,” plus 150 years on nearly two dozen other charges.
“Confinement officials do not get to trammel on an accused’s constitutional rights and ‘buy’ their way out of it through judge-imposed sentencing credit,” Coombs wrote. “If the constitutional protection against pretrial punishment is to mean anything, then all charges against PFC Manning must be dismissed with prejudice.”
Coombs requested to postpone oral arguments for this motion until October, but the parties plan to meet for a hearing on Quantico witnesses and other issues at the end of the month.
Meanwhile, Coombs asked the military judge, Col. Denise Lind, to let Manning testify about his treatment at Quantico as the last Article 13 witness for the defense.