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The Prosecution’s Argument for Why It Didn’t ‘Unlawfully Punish’ Bradley Manning

Maj. Ashden Fein of the prosecution

Military prosecutors challenging a defense motion alleging Pfc. Bradley Manning was subjected to “unlawful pretrial punishment” while imprisoned at Quantico are arguing Manning had multiple avenues available to him if he wanted to complain about his confinement, which he never used.

Manning, who is being prosecuted for allegedly providing classified information to WikiLeaks, testified this past week on his confinement. He detailed how he was held at Quantico from July 29, 2010 to April 20, 2011. Maj. Ashden Fein cross-examined Manning and tested this theory on Manning: that he somehow had not used all the opportunities he had at Quantico to oppose restrictive conditions.

Manning would have commanders from his company visit him in the Brig. He would have opportunities to meet with clergy. He would have counseling sessions with Gunnery Sergeant Craig Blenis. He would have sessions with a psychiatrist, Navy Captain Dr. William Hocter. Col. Robert Oltman, who was a Security Battalion commander, would stop by Manning’s cell periodically. There were “chits”—forms—Manning had which he could put in an “old ballot box” that would come by his cell on a cart and the “chit” was a way of communicating with the officer-in-charge (OIC) of the Brig. He could have submitted a “chit” to the inspector general but never did.

As Fein argued when cross-examining Manning, Manning was able to use “chits” and request assistance from the chain of command on changing his prevention of injury (POI) status, which authorized the Brig to treat him cruelly. The requests never asked the “chain of command” to assist Manning with getting off POI status. Checklists filled out by commanders there was never any indication that Manning was asking to be taken off POI status. Manning countered explaining he had conveyed this to commanders.

There are multiple reasons why this argument is disingenuous and flawed. One, Manning and his defense—in particular, his lawyer, David Coombs—were actively pursuing administrative or legal remedies as early as December 2010 to get Manning into better confinement conditions.

Manning told Coombs on November 30 in testimony, “We looked at it from the vantage point I wanted to get off POI and best way to do that legally was exhaust my administrative remedies.”

Coombs also emailed Fein prior to December and Fein said he would look into what he could do to get Manning off POI. Nothing meaningful happened after this email. In early January, Coombs submitted a “memo” to CWO4 James Averhart, the Brig OIC, requesting Manning’s confinement conditions be improved. Then, on January 19, the defense filed an Article 138 complaint asserting “the action of holding PFC Manning in Maximum (MAX) custody, under Prevention of Injury (POI) watch for over five months and recently placing him under suicide risk was an abuse of CWO4 James Averhart’s discretion.” The defense was prepared to file a writ of extraordinary relief if necessary.

Secondly, it is not true that Manning was not taking issue with his confinement conditions when meeting with commanders. On September 22, 2010, he said to a commander he was not aware of why he was on POI. The commander talked to him about it. On February 11, 2011, he raised the issue of injury watch or suicide prevention. Sgt. Jones wrote that Manning had been on “injury prevention” for six months. They had a discussion about the status. [cont’d.]

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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."