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Bradley Manning’s Confinement Conditions at Quantico to Be Argued in Military Court Today

Manning's defense in court at Fort Meade (Sketch by Clark Stoeckley)

Pfc. Bradley Manning, the soldier accused of releasing classified information to WikiLeaks, will be in court today at Fort Meade in Maryland for the first day of a hearing on a defense motion that alleges “unlawful pretrial punishment” while imprisoned at the Quantico Marine Brig in Virginia. The motion calls for all charges with prejudice to be dismissed or “10-for-1 sentencing credit” for the 258 days Manning served in conditions “equivalent to solitary confinement.”

The hearing is scheduled to take place from November 27 to December 2. Defense witnesses will take the stand. These are to include Quantico commanders, Quantico mental health professionals and—as widely reported in the past day (but known since July)—Manning.

Following the defense witnesses, the prosecution will have its witnesses take the stand. Also, at some point during the defense’s argument, the suicide smock, blanket and twin mattress he used will be brought into the courtroom for the judge to personally see, touch and defense attorney David Coombs will describe the role they played in Manning’s “unlawful pretrial punishment.”

The defense’s motion, which is 110 pages, was posted to the defense’s website in August. I published a full report on the motion that highlighted key aspects: a three-star general told Brig psychiatrists officers would whatever they wanted to do with Manning, regardless of recommendations; Brig psychiatrists issued recommendations that Manning be downgraded from Prevention of Injury (POI) for eight months; Manning was constantly monitored and subjected to cruel confinement conditions that even high-ranking officials like former State Department spokesperson PJ Crowley recognized and the officers, in some instances, outright agitated him then used his reaction to justify keeping him in conditions that amounted to solitary confinement.

Manning was downgraded from Suicide Risk and put on POI status just after being transferred from Kuwait in August 2010. POI status is “assigned” to “prisoners who have given an indication that they intend or are contemplating harming themselves.” He was also designated a “maximum custody” (MAX) detainee. The two combined to create the conditions, which are central to the defense’s allegations that Manning was unlawfully punished.

As described in the defense motion, Manning was observed during most of August by Brig staff and “received regular treatment from the Brig psychiatrists.” The staff noted Manning was “adjusting well to confinement.” He had “presented no problems and has been courteous and respectful to staff,” they wrote.

The staff also found his conduct had been “excellent” and Manning had indicated he had not been suicidal since he arrived at Quantico. He was informed of how his custody could be reduced and he might be able to get a “job assignment” while in confinement. Manning said he would like to work in the Brig library. And, on August 27, 2010, a mental health professional determined Manning was “no longer considered a risk of self-harm and recommended that PFC Manning be taken off of POI status.”

For eight months, psychiatrists at the Brig recommended he be removed from POI status. A few weeks after he arrived from Kuwait, one psychiatrist began requested he be downgraded but sought the “services of another forensic psychiatrist” to “be a consultant/second opinion.” He was requested to err on the side of caution because there had been a suicide in the Brig earlier in the year. The “forensic psychiatrist” concluded POI status was appropriate and that recommendation went into effect a few weeks later. However, the same psychiatrist’s opinion of Manning did not change and the psychiatrist continued to recommend Manning be downgraded.

This psychiatrist (who will hopefully take the stand during the hearing this week) stated in an affidavit:

…My understanding is that the Brig has not followed my recommendations because of great concern and worry that Manning will harm himself. I told them I thought the Max status (with every 15 minute visual checks of the detainee vice POI with every 5 minute checks) was more than sufficient to ensure his safety, from a psychiatric perspective. The every 5 minute checks done for POI is extremely rigorous, particularly for a second tier precaution. Every 15 minute checks was common for suicide precautions in other jails and correctional facilities where I have worked.

I wish to add that I do not believe the staff has disregarded my recommendations out of malice toward Manning. The Marine Corps, including Quantico, has had a miserable time with the problem of suicide recently. I am certain, from their point of view, the best way to avoid a tragedy is to watch a situation very closely and take action quickly. It has been difficult to help them see that good intentions can have unintended consequences (e.g., making the detainee more anxious and causing occasional agitation)…

On April 14, 2010, this same psychiatrist filed an affidavit, where he stated:

…The Brig frequently ignores or delays my recommendation regarding precautions, including suicide precautions. This differs from any of the previous jails, brigs, or prisons in which I have worked, military or civilian. This occurred even before the suicide of a detainee in January 2010. Prior to the Manning case, this, among other issues, had make working at the Brig so frustrating that I asked to be relieved of these duties. This was not permitted. I have struggled to make the best of a situation that was not professionally pleasing. The addition of forensic psychiatry fellows to the milieu (for me to teach) has been invigorating and lifted my morale…

Another psychiatrist submitted an affidavit, where the psychiatrist contended there was “no psychiatric reason” for Manning to have been “segregated from the general population.”

A Classification & Assignment (C&A) Board met on a weekly basis to review Manning’s confinement conditions but “failed to document its recommendations on the required Brig form” for five months. As the defense wrote in their motion, “Only when it was clear that Quantico was being subjected to outside scrutiny” did the Board find it “necessary to create a paper trail.”

“Psychiatric opinions” were also apparently “window dressing,” the defense also wrote in the argument portion of the motion. They were asked for to make it appear the Brig had accorded Manning due process “when it was abundantly clear that he was not.”

Manning made repeated requests for relief from the MAX custody and POI confinement conditions:

  • January 5, 2011 – Manning filed two complaints with Quantico requesting removal from maximum custody and POI or to provide justification for keeping him in MAX and POI. He was provided with no redress.
  • January 13, 2011 – Manning filed a request for release from pretrial confinement, citing the “unduly harsh confinement conditions, the failure of Quantico staff to respond to his previous “grievance request” and “the failure of the military magistrate to seriously consider other options” that would ensure he was present at trial. The request was denied and he was informed the POI issue would be addressed separately.
  • January 19, 2011 – Manning filed a request for redress under Article 138
  • March 2, 2011 – After responses were filed, it was determined “no relief was appropriate” and redress was denied
  • March 10, 2011 – Manning filed a rebuttal that included details on a March 2, 2011, incident that occurred where he was placed on Suicide Risk
  • April 8, 2011 – Article 138 complaint was denied a second time
  • April 20, 2011 – Manning was transferred to Joint Regional Correctional Facility (JRCF) at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas
  • June 13, 2011 – Final action on the Article 138 complaint was taken. It was denied because even if it had merit those handling the request determined the transfer to Leavenworth was a “superseding and intervening event” that made request for relief unavailable.

Finally, the defense motion suggests the government never tried to have Manning removed from POI status, despite consistent recommendations from psychiatrists. They simply requested “documentation that could be used to ‘combat any potential Article 13 issues’ or “unlawful pretrial punishment” litigation.

The public will be able to see how the government planned to cover what happened and deflect responsibility. They will also get to hear from the officers, psychiatrists and Manning himself why he was treated the way he was while in confinement.

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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."