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Bradley Manning’s Defense Grills Former Brig Commanding Officer on Decision to Take Underwear

CWO2 Denise Barnes

The commanding officer in charge of the Quantico Marine Brig, who took over in the middle of January 2011 while Pfc. Bradley Manning was in the prison, took the witness stand to give testimony in an “unlawful pretrial punishment” hearing this morning. The hearing continued argument on a defense motion alleging that Manning was subjected to punishment during his confinement at Quantico. Her testimony addressed the period when he was confined from mid-January to April 20, when he was transferred to Leavenworth prison.

Chief Warrant Officer 2 Denise Barnes was cross-examined by Manning’s defense lawyer, David Coombs, for more than six hours. A key highlight was testimony on Barnes’ decision to take Manning’s underwear on March 2.

What happened has been central to the proceedings thus far. Master Sergeant Brian Papakie had a conversation with Manning. He expressed frustration with the current conditions. Pointing out how absurd they were, he said if he really wanted to kill himself he could do it with the elastic in his underwear. Manning then smiled or smirked and that night his underwear was ordered by CWO2 Barnes to be removed.

CWO2 Barnes did not order him to be put on suicide risk, even though that was the policy that gave her the authority to take a detainee’s clothing which she cited. She didn’t order him to be put on suicide risk because it would have required the psychiatrist’s concurrence. Instead, she changed the special handling instructions under prevention of injury (POI) status. She did not want Col. Rick Malone to be able to say that he no longer posed a risk of committing suicide and then she would have to give him back his underwear and downgrade him to POI.

Col. Malone told her that this comment was just Manning intellectualizing. However, as she testified, she could not “take this lightly.”

Lt. Col. Michael Wright notified CWO2 Barnes via email that she was not allowed to remove his underwear unless he was put on suicide risk. When asked about this she said, it was just a “difference of professional opinion” that occurs on a regular basis. But, Lt. Col. Wright worked for the Security and Law Enforcement section of the Marine Corps Headquarters. He was a proponent of the instruction that laid out clearly that if a detainee is not on suicide risk he should not have his underwear taken away.

The following day, Manning stood at parade rest in his cell during morning count naked. She, like previous officers who testified, contended Manning chose to stand naked without his POI blankets, which he could have used to cover up. In fact, Coombs said that CWO2 Barnes had told defense previously that she believed Manning was being manipulative. She agreed in her testimony and added he could have asked the lance corporal on duty to get his clothes.

Up to this point in the proceedings, no officer has testified that Manning was ordered to stand naked and put the blankets down on his rack (bed). Coombs asked if a guard had, what would have happened? CWO2 Barnes said they would be reprimanded. She would consider that “deviant behavior” to tell someone to stand naked for count.

CWO5 Abel Galaviz read about this in the news and emailed her and asked her about the decision to take his underwear. A top corrections administrator at the Marine Corps Headquarters, he said he wanted to talk to her about an article he had read about the decision to remove Manning’s underwear. She spoke to him saying the reports were true and it could not be taken lightly because of Manning’s history in the Brig.

She repeatedly pointed out from the stand that she did not take his underwear all day. She also said “he didn’t say I’m going to kill myself or make suicidal gesture.” Then what did he do?

Manning had to surrender his underwear every night until April 20, when he moved to Leavenworth. On March 7, he did begin to wear a suicide smock, but he still was forced to endure this treatment.

According to CWO2 Barnes’s testimony, she maintained this “special handling instruction” because he was not talking to her about what led to her decision. He was not communicating and explaining himself. However, Coombs asked if she had engaged him on this to get him to talk and she said she would not because she did not want him to get agitated easily.

On March 18, it was noted that Manning was secluding himself from the majority of the Brig staff. He no longer had interest in the staff or his counselor, GYSGT. Craig Blenis. Coombs suggested this might have been because he was now being forced to sleep without his underwear and he might have thought his statements could be used against him so he stopped talking to staff.

CWO2 Barnes noted in an email days after the decision, “Keeping his underwear comes with a lot of disdain from others who support him.” She warned staff to be prepared for verbal attacks over the phone. She realized there would be a lot of media attention.

Despite public outrage and complaints from human rights advocates, she kept having Manning surrender his underwear for the next month and a half.

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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."