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Bradley Manning’s Treatment Should ‘Shock Conscience of Court,’ Defense Declares

At Fort Meade, the defense presented arguments in favor of a request to have witnesses appear in August when the court deliberates over the unlawful pretrial punishment of Pfc. Bradley Manning, the soldier accused of releasing classified information to WikiLeaks.

The defense had requested seven witnesses. Two were challenged by the government. The government also challenged a request that was included in this motion that called for suicide prevention items Manning used to be produced for the upcoming hearing.

Manning’s defense lawyer David Coombs argued it was reasonable to request seven witnesses appear in court, but the government would not allow Lt. Col. Dawn Hilton, commander of the Joint Regional Correctional Facility (JRCF) at Fort Leavenworth, or Juan Mendez, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture.

Coombs explained Hilton was not being called to “second guess” decision that were made at Quantico Marine Brig, where Manning had been held for nine months in pretrial confinement. He wanted to call her to support the defense’s theory. Manning had been placed in maximum custody and suicide prevention or “prevention of injury” (POI) watch. He endured solitary confinement for twenty-three hours a day as a result. But, when he was processed at Ft. Leavenworth, he was placed into medium custody. Leavenworth personnel did not find him to be a risk to himself. Hilton would be able to bring forward evidence on Manning that would show why he was not put into maximum custody.

There was a direct order made by the supervisor of the commander of the brig, CWO4 James Averhart, to place him on POI watch. A report showed the brig staff was disregarding medical professionals, who were stating Manning shouldn’t be placed under POI status.

What the defense is left to wonder, Coombs said, is “either the water at Ft. Leavenworth has amazing mental health healing properties” or he was subjected to unlawful pretrial punishment.

With regards to Mendez, he contacted the US government. The United Nations had decided to take a look. He inquired into Manning’s custody status. He wanted to have an unmonitored visit as an official. The Brig would not grant him the right to meet with Manning privately. (They would not even allow Rep. Dennis Kucinich to meet with Manning unmonitored because they decided he was not an “official.” Essentially, only attorneys could be “officials” under the Brig’s criteria.)

Manning would not consent to a monitored visit. Mendez never visited Manning to hear about the conditions of his confinement.

Judge Army Col. Denise Lind did not understand why Mendez should be allowed to testify. She said to Coombs, “How is any of this relevant?” and “Why do I need him?” Coombs attempted to explain that Manning had gone through every channel to challenge his confinement conditions. When he attempted to go outside of the military, Manning’s right to meet with Mendez was violated. This basically showed how far the government was willing to go to preserve and further their unlawful pre-trial order.

Ultimately, the defense’s request to have Mendez appear in court was denied. The judge didn’t see why she should permit him to testify. With regards to Hilton, however, Lind found her to be relevant and opposed the government’s argument. She even said, “I think she is relevant.”

The defense called on the court to produce the suicide prevention smock that Manning wore and the suicide prevention blanket and suicide prevention mattress he was given to use in his cell. Coombs wanted them to be physically present in court for the next hearing because one would have to touch them to see why they would create an “unnecessary and onerous condition” for Manning.

“Only when you put your hand to [the mattress and blanket]” do you “realize it’s a piece of sandpaper,” Coombs said.

Ideally, Coombs wanted the smock that Manning actually had worn. He wanted it because it was “not built to fit him.” This posed a risk. It was the smock he had made to wear after officers ordered him to strip.

The government objected to the production of this evidence in court at the next hearing. Lind seemed to heavily disagree with the government’s argument for why the evidence should not be present in court when unlawful pretrial punishment is argued. She thought she’d get a better idea of how he was treated if she could see and touch the blanket, smock and twin mattress.

She ordered the evidence to be produced by the Marines. She suggested a pickup truck be used to get the mattress to the courthouse.

Coombs indicated in December 2010, when it became clear his client was being unlawfully and inhumanely treated, that he would be taking this kind of action that first chance he had in the court martial process. Now, he is filing an Article 13 motion on July 27 that will be over 100 pages long and he says it should “shock the conscience of the court.”

This is what he wrote previously:

The defense has raised the conditions of PFC Bradley Manning’s confinement conditions on multiple occasions with the Quantico confinement facility and the Army Staff Judge Advocate’s (SJA) Office assigned to handle this case. Our efforts, unfortunately, have not resulted any in positive results. To its credit, the SJA office is attempting to correct this situation. However, given the fact that Quantico is a Marine Corps facility, it has similarly had no success.

PFC Bradley Manning, unlike his civilian counterpart, is afforded no civil remedy for illegal restraint under either the Federal Civil Rights Act or the Federal Tort Claims Act. Similarly, the protection from cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment and Article 55 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) does not generally apply prior to a court-martial. Thus, the only judicial recourse that is available is under Article 13 of the UCMJ.

As Coombs outlines, if Lind would determine Manning had been “illegally punished prior to trial,” she would have “substantial discretion to grant administrative credit, usually in the form of additional pretrial confinement credit, or even grant an outright dismissal of the charges.”

The government’s opposition to Mendez is quite revealing. The government—primarily, the military in this instance—does not want to be subjected to the authority of another body, especially an international body like the United Nations, whose human rights opinions are so utterly disregarded routinely. They would not want Mendez to take the stand and describe publicly in a military court all that happened to him in his effort to meet with Manning.

Mendez officially condemned how Manning had been treated in March of this year. He found out through a response from the government that the “brig commander” had authorization to “impose” an “isolation regime” because of the “seriousness of the offense” for which Manning would eventually be charged. He called Manning’s treatment “cruel and inhuman.”

Going forward, from August 27-31, the court will be in session for another pretrial motion hearing to litigate the issue (along with other issues as well). Coombs’ defense motion—which he seemed to promise would be revelatory and shocking—will undoubtedly be the highlight of the proceedings.

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."