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Hundreds of Quantico Emails Handed Over to Bradley Manning’s Defense

Manning's defense lawyer David Coombs in court (Courtroom sketch by Clark Stoeckley)

The government handed the defense for Pfc. Bradley Manning around six hundred emails between commanding officers at the Quantico Marine brig in Virginia, where Manning was held in pretrial confinement for nine months.  The emails make up just less than half of a cache of emails in the government’s possession, 84 of which were already turned over to the defense.

The defense believes they contain further proof that the commanding general of the brig, Maj. Gen. George Flynn, was the key person who made sure Manning was kept in prevention of injury (POI) status.

The defense submitted a request on December 8, 2010, for “any and all documents or observation notes by employees of the Quantico confinement facility relating to Pfc. Bradley Manning.” The prosecution requested that Quantico “preserve all documentation and their emails” as a result. Yet, the emails relevant to a hearing scheduled for August 28 were not provided to the defense until days before it was time for the defense to file its 100-page motion, which it had informed the court it would be filing at the end of July.

The government had documents preserved in their control for almost a year. It received the last of its documentation at least seven months ago. However, the government just began to review these Quantico emails for an “unlawful pretrial punishment” hearing that was previously scheduled for August 27-31. That was why the 84 emails were handed over and why the hearing was postponed until October 1-5.

Judge Army Col. Denise Lind asked, “Why did you wait that long?” Major Ashden Fein of the government argued the prosecutors had been overwhelmed by discovery requests from the defense and were trying to complete those. More importantly, he contended the December 2010 request did not specifically request emails and so the government was under no obligation to turn the emails over. That was why, just as the defense had to file a 100-page motion alleging Manning was cruelly and inhumanely treated at Quantico, the government decided to notify the defense of the existence of Quantico emails.

Defense lawyer David Coombs argued the government had committed a significant discovery violation. When he pressed the government, they immediately began to play “word games,” as they had done before. The 84 emails were turned over because they were “obviously material to the preparation of the defense.” Homing in on the word “obviously,” Coombs wondered if there were emails that were just “material to the preparation” and not “obviously.”

Two separate trial counsels for the government made representations that they had disclosed all in their possession that was “material” to the defense. Coombs could have accepted this right there and all would have been said and done. But Coombs, suspecting shenanigans, filed a discovery request and emails that the government had not considered to be “material” were uncovered. There now were 1,290 additional emails that the government had.

Coombs explained in court that Flynn was being notified of when he called Manning, as if that was a problem. He was notified when queries were passed to Manning’s counselor. And Coombs had no idea that the commanding general at Quantico had this much interest in his interactions with his client until he read the emails.

There was no way for Coombs to address the content of the 600 emails just handed over to him during proceedings. He did, however, address the other 700 remaining emails, which he argued should be produced and turned over to the defense as well.

It was mentioned that the government has listed eight criteria for why the remaining emails were not relevant. Two of those criteria were raised by the judge in court: (1) public affairs/media relations emails and (2) emails on protests happening at Quantico in support of Manning.

Coombs argued these two sets would actually be relevant. They would likely show negative media attention was of more importance to the brig commanders than whether Manning was being treated unlawfully or inhumanely. Emails on protests would show the commanding officers had taken their disgust with the protesters out on Manning.

He mentioned that he had been able to tell from the 84 emails released already how concerned the brig was with how the media would make the brig look in their coverage. They did not want anything to happen. They wanted to do what they wanted and keep him in maximum custody and suicide risk and do everything they could to prevent negative publicity. For example, one email notes that Manning’s friend, David House, visited and was turned away and they needed to do a better job of having “spin” ready for media when this happened again. When Manning was forced to stand naked, Coombs said the public affairs staff wanted to make sure they had “spin” the next time this happened.

In January 2011, protesters were on the base and Manning was placed on suicide risk. Officers at the brig thought the protests had made life difficult and so they were going to make life difficult for Manning. It was, Coombs added, no coincidence the guards placed Manning on suicide risk the same day there had been protests.

From the defense motion alleging unlawful pretrial punishment, this allegation that the commanding general was the one making Manning’s life miserable is further detailed:

…On 18 January 2011 where **Redacted****decided to put PFC Manning on Suicide Risk status after PFC Manning had an anxiety attack at recreation call. The Defense submits that Brig guards provoked the anxiety attack because they were angry about a protest that took place the day before outside the gates of Quantico that was designed to bring attention to the conditions of PFC Manning’s confinement. On a video filmed by one of the protestors, Quantico guards can be heard saying, “Quit asking questions! Quit asking questions!” and “You’re not helping out, man, you’re not helping out.”

On 18 January 2011, Brig guards were agitated and confrontational with PFC Manning. Instead of the usual two to three guards, there were four guards assigned to PFC Manning. They immediately began issuing conflicting orders, and were insistent that PFC Manning use the expression “aye, sir” rather than “yes, sir.” The harassment continued when the guards escorted PFC Manning into the recreation hall. Due to the belligerence of the guards and being yelled at, PFC Manning began to feel faint and dizzy. He took a step away from the guards, as they got ready to restrain him. PFC Manning immediately put his hands in the air and said, “I’m not doing anything, I am just trying to follow your orders.” In **Redacted**account of the events, he states that after the incident, and while still at recreation call, “[PFC Manning] stated he didn’t understand why he was being treated different and that it seemed that all the guards were anxious and it was making him anxious.”

Later that day, about 30 minutes after he had been returned to his cell, the *******************************, visited PFC Manning in his cell. When PFC Manning tried to explain what happened earlier that day during the recreation call and expressed continued frustration over the conditions of his confinement, **Redacted**stopped PFC Manning and said, “I am the**Redacted**” and “No one will tell me what to do.” He also stated to PFC Manning that he was, for all practical purposes “God.” PFC Manning responded by saying that **Redacted**still had to follow Brig procedures and that everyone has a boss they have to answer to. When PFC Manning made these comments, **Redacted**placed PFC Manning on Suicide Risk status.

The defense called for a continuance “to review and incorporate information from the 84 emails” into submissions for the motion hearing on Manning’s treatment. The defense also wanted “to interview (and re-interview) witnesses based on information contained and make new requests with regards to witnesses for the hearing on his treatment.

Coombs expressed much frustration with what happened because this could potentially mean pushing the date of the “unlawful pretrial punishment” hearing back even further.

As Coombs said in his final remarks to the judge, when the government received emails they were not “prioritized.” They asked to preserve and retain documents and then they did not look at them until there was an upcoming hearing where they might be needed for reference. Now, they have offered a “dog ate my homework” excuse to justify not giving these emails to the defense earlier. They have an interpretation of discovery rules that Coombs finds requires the defense to play “pin the tail on the donkey in order” to get them off “their duffs to look at this stuff” so it is handed over.

The emails and all evidence that might support the defense’s arguments that Manning was cruelly and inhumanely treated at Quantico under the direction of the commanding general at the brig is critical to the defense. It could significantly reduce the sentence and help give the defense some leverage in arguing the case before a panel during trial.

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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."