Wagons Circle on Manning’s Deployment

     FT. MEADE, Md. (CN) – Several military officials who once supervised WikiLeaks source Bradley Manning retreated from their past criticism of those who signed off on sending the soldier to Iraq, as the defense sentencing case kicked off on Monday.
     Sending Manning to perform intelligence analysis in Baghdad gave the young soldier the access he needed to disclose more than 700,000 confidential files, including U.S. embassy cables, Iraq and Afghanistan battlefield reports, Guantanamo detainee profiles, and footage of airstrikes that killed civilians.
     Earlier this year, the young soldier said that he leaked the files because he wanted to spark debate about the conduct of U.S. diplomacy and warfare, not for any mental health reasons.
     To mitigate their client’s sentencing exposure on Monday morning, however, attorneys for Manning focused more on the young soldier’s psychological state than his transparency aims. Manning’s struggles with anxiety, depression and gender identity have been a regular topic of his court-martial.
     Capt. David Moulton, a doctor who sat on the “sanity board” that cleared Manning as competent to stand trial, is expected to testify this week.
     As proceedings began, the lead prosecutor, Maj. Ashden Fein, tried to get access to the sanity board’s report to use against Manning. “It’s the defense that is the gatekeeper,” Fein said. “If the defense raises a mental health condition, they open the door.”
     Lead defense attorney David Coombs said that he was offering mental health evidence only to provide “context and circumstances” behind Manning’s disclosures. Giving prosecutors the sanity board’s report would be unfair because Manning was forced to participate in it, Coombs said.
     The military judge, Col. Denise Lind, ordered the defense to hand prosecutors that report, but she allowed the redaction of any statements that Manning made to the board in keeping with medical privacy restrictions.
     As its first witness in the sentencing case, Manning’s defense called Col. David Miller, the former brigade commander who testified about the “scrubbing” process that recruits must pass in order to deploy.
     At least three of Manning’s supervisors were removed or reshuffled around the time of his deployment, Miller acknowledged. In one instance, a major had to be replaced by a captain. Miller agreed that this was atypical, but he downplayed the shakeups as unrelated.
     The major in question, Cliff Clausen, had been removed from his position as commander of the S2 shop, shorthand for the intelligence analysts, in December 2009.
     That same month, Manning had an angry outburst in a counseling session in which he flipped over a table, damaging computer equipment in the process. A soldier at the scene had to restrain Manning from grabbing a weapon, the court heard.
     Manning kept his security clearance and never received a “derog,” or derogatory, for the incident.
     Insisting that these two events were unrelated, Miller testified that Clausen had been pulled because his intelligence reports were not up to snuff, not because of any failures as a supervisor. The colonel defended the decision not to remove Manning’s security clearance after the 2009 outburst.
     “We’re not in an environment of someone made a mistake, kick them to the curb,” Miller said.     
     Manning’s attorneys claim that the Army adopted this forgiving attitude only because of staffing shortages.
     Corroborating that, Clausen said that the S2 shop was roughly one-third “under strength.”
     “There was a pressure on the whole unit to deploy,” Clausen added.
     Several other witnesses had insisted otherwise.
     Shortly after Manning’s arrest, Army investigators looked into the issue of how the WikiLeaks source came to be deployed in Baghdad. This probe led Clausen to receive a letter of reprimand criticizing him for supporting the “dysfunctional and disorganized leadership scheme” of his subordinate Master Sgt. Paul Adkins, the court heard.
     Col. Miller initially claimed that he formed no opinion about Adkins before being confronted by a sworn statement in which he told military investigators that the master sergeant had a reputation as a “marginal duty performer” who was “not quite bad enough to relieve or replace.”
     During the time of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Manning had sent Adkins a picture of himself in drag and a note confiding could no longer hide his exploration of a female identity.
     “I’ve had signs of it for a very long time,” Manning wrote. “I’ve been trying very, very hard to get rid of it. It is not going away. It is haunting me more and more as I get older. Now the consequences are getting harder.”
     Adkins never responded to this message, nor did he respond to the table-flipping incident later that month.
     When he testified at trial, Adkins claimed that he experienced massive memory loss after he tripped while on a tour of duty in Iraq. He also blamed that memory loss for his inability to corroborate a claim that Manning had no loyalty to the American flag.
     Three witnesses questioned Adkins’ alleged diagnosis on Monday.
     Miller’s executive officer, Lt. Col. Brian Kerns, testified that he interacted with Adkins on an almost daily basis and never noticed any memory problems.
     Neither did Clausen nor Maj. Elijah Dreher, the former brigade company commander.
     Dreher testified that he bumped into Manning at the Baghdad airport on mid-tour leave. He said that they spoke about Manning’s desire to go to college and become an officer.
     Indeed, brigade commander Miller is one of many trial witnesses have described Manning as a promising intelligence analyst.
     “He seemed pretty squared away,” Col. Miller said, referring to Manning. “These were snapshots. Articulate and had a pretty good understanding of the information that he had.”
     Miller downplayed Manning’s angry outbursts as something to be expected from any work environment.
     But Capt. Michael Johnson, a collection manager for the intelligence division, thought otherwise.
     Using military jargon for young intelligence analysts, Johsnon said: “It’s not uncommon for 35 Foxes to be high maintenance, but [Manning] crossed the line.”
     These soldiers tend to have a “sense of entitlement” because they often come right out of advanced infantry training, the captain elaborated.
     “Due to this, they tend to question authority a lot,” he said. “They tend to question their orders and their leadership. They tend to have a problem with authority.”
     Of all the witnesses today, Johnson was the most openly critical of the chain of command. “There was no direction of what was going on in the S2 shop prior to deployment,” he said.
     The last witness of the day, Capt. Elizabeth Fields, a Sunni intelligence analyst, was equally critical about Manning’s superiors to Army investigators, but she dramatically shifted her opinions on the witness stand.
     In the wake of Manning’s arrest, Fields told investigators that she tried to call attention to problems surrounding Manning but was rebuffed.
     “I thought it was terrible because the problem was ignored,” Fields said.
     She also acknowledged telling investigators that “there was a lack of leadership across the board,” but that the higher ups told her to “stay out of it.
     Fields said she has gained new perspective on the issue since her promotion to captain.
     During the time of her initial interview, Johnson gave a sworn statement that she saw Manning rocking back and forth on the floor of the supply room for “what appeared to be an hour.”
     Today, she claims to have no memory of this event.
     When Judge Lind pressed her on this point, Fields said that she would expect that her factual statements from this period were truthful.
     Manning is also expected to deliver a statement some time this week.

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