FT. MEADE, Md. (CN) - A former Marine Corps prison in Quantico, Va. had the resources to hold alleged WikiLeaks source Bradley Manning for 90 days, not the 9 months he stayed there, the prison's former commanding officer said Tuesday.
Manning has been incarcerated for more than 900 days since he was arrested in May 2010, accused of the largest intelligence disclosure in U.S. history.
He allegedly leaked hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables, incident reports from Iraq and Afghanistan and footage of a Baghdad airstrike that killed about 12 people, including two Reuters reporters.
Roughly 25 Manning supporters stood outside the military courtroom on a cold and rainy Tuesday morning before the hearing on Manning's treatment at Quantico began. When the doors opened, the protesters filed into the courtroom to watch. Many wore black T-shirts emblazoned with the word "Truth."
Manning's nearly 9-month stay at Quantico, from July 29, 2010, to April 19, 2011, provoked international attention, as reports trickled out that he had been forced to spend more than 23 hours a day alone, ordered to strip and denied permission to exercise in his windowless, 6-by-8-foot cell.
If the military judge, Col. Denise Lind, finds his treatment constituted "unlawful pretrial punishment," she could dismiss the charges against him, or reduce his sentence if he is convicted.
Quantico's former commanding officer, retired Col. Daniel Choike, took the stand first, weathering roughly 8 hours of testimony during day one of these hearings.
Well into the evening, he told Judge Lind that the prison's downsizing and lack of on-site medical support made it poorly equipped to handle detainees for long periods.
"Quantico is not about long term," Choike said. "Individual short term, but not long term confinement."
"Did you always have that realization, or did you come to that realization?" Lind asked.
"I came to that realization," he replied.
Earlier, Choike said that the recent suicide of another Quantico detainee, Capt. Michael Webb, made staff take extra precautions with Manning.
Webb hanged himself with his clothing, a plastic bag and a rubber band before he could stand trial for defrauding the government, Choike said.
Before being transferred to Quantico, Manning was held in Kuwait, where prison guards claimed he made nooses in suicide attempts.
Choike testified that three-star Gen. George Flynn, who oversaw Quantico operations, warned staffers in an email: "We need to cover down what we learned from that case."
The email allegedly included a New York Times article about Manning's family history and mental state.
"This young man has a great deal on his plate," Flynn said of Manning in an email. "Impress upon the brig, medical and transport personnel the absolute necessity of keeping a close watch."
Manning spent his time at Quantico in maximum confinement, and occasionally was shuffled between prevention-of-injury and suicide watch.
Two brig psychologists protested this treatment for months because they found that Manning posed no risk of harming himself or anyone else, Coombs said.
Choike said that he deferred to Capt. Mary Neill, from the Navy Dental Corps, who outranked them.
"You went a dentist because she's the commanding officer, and not the forensic psychologist?" Coombs asked incredulously.
Choike replied that he followed the chain of command.
Guards ordered Manning to strip naked after he joked that he could hang himself with the waistband of his underwear.
"Were you informed at the time that Pfc. Manning said that he was smiling?" Coombs asked.
"No," Choike said.
According to Coombs, a Quantico psychologist, a colonel, found that Manning had been "intellectualizing the absurdity of his [prevention of injury] status" with a sarcastic remark.
"It wasn't absurd to the people of the brig who [were there] 24 hours a day, 7 days a week," Choike replied.
One Quantico staffer wrote about this incident in an email to other officials through a grim parody of the children's book "Green Eggs and Ham," which Coombs recited.
"As Dr. Seuss says, 'I can wear them in a box. I can wear them with a fox. I can wear them in the day. I can wear them so I say. But I cannot wear them at night. My comments gave the staff a fright,'" the staffer allegedly wrote in an email chain.
"Do you believe that the removal of Pfc. Manning's underwear is something to be joked about?" Coombs asked.
"No," Choike answered.
The former Quantico chief also blamed Manning's confinement status on his alleged "erratic behavior."
Choike said he received reports Manning played peek-a-boo with the guards, licked the bars on his cell, became withdrawn at times and held his arms as though lifting imaginary weights.
Coombs replied that these alleged incidents stemmed from the conditions of Manning's confinement.
He said Manning played games to quell his isolation-induced boredom, stopped speaking to the guards after they commented about him and did arm exercises to keep fit despite prison regulations keeping him from exercising.
Coombs added that the alleged bar-licking incident, "if it happened," could have occurred while Manning was sleepwalking, under the influence of medication.
Manning is expected to testify about his time in Quantico before this round of hearings end Sunday.
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