Three-Star General Was Behind Harsh Treatment of Bradley Manning, Defense Alleges

Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, left, is escorted out of a courthouse in Fort Meade, Maryland, Friday, Dec. 16, 2011, after the first day of a military hearing that will determine if he should face court-martial for his alleged role in the WikiLeaks classified leaks case. Manning is suspected of being the source in one of the largest unauthorized disclosures of classified information in U.S. history. Photo: Cliff Owen/AP

An order to submit WikiLeaks suspect Bradley Manning to harsh and allegedly illegal treatment in prison apparently came from the upper echelons of the Marine Corps.

According to military e-mails released to Manning’s defense, a three-star general was the force behind the marching orders to hold Manning as a maximum-custody detainee under prevention-of-injury watch, or POI — orders that resulted in severe conditions at the Marine Corps brig in Quantico, Virginia, that left Manning isolated and repeatedly mistreated by his guards.

Defense attorney David Coombs disclosed the contents of the e-mails in a post published on his blog on Friday. He did not publish the actual e-mails.

Coombs called the treatment a “flagrant violation” of his client’s right to not be punished prior to trial and has filed a motion asking for the charges against Manning to be dismissed based on the allegedly unlawful treatment.

“These e-mails reveal that the senior Brig officer who ordered PFC Manning to be held in MAX and in POI was receiving his marching orders from a three-star general,” Coombs wrote on his blog. “They also reveal that everyone at Quantico was complicit in the unlawful pretrial punishment, from senior officers to enlisted soldier.”

Manning was removed from Quantico in April 2011 and transferred to Leavenworth following heavy criticism and complaints from his defense attorney about how the Marine Corps brig was treating him. The Army tried to downplay the reason for the move at the time, saying there were a number of factors behind the decision, but also didn’t dispute that Manning’s treatment at the brig was one motivating factor.

“I won’t say that his conditions at Quantico had nothing to do with this,” Jeh Johnson, the Pentagon’s general counsel, said at a press conference at the time. He was quick to add, however, that “the fact that we have made a decision to transfer him should not be interpreted as a criticism of the place he was before,” and he was satisfied that Manning’s treatment at Quantico was in compliance with “legal and regulatory standards in all respects, and we salute the military personnel there for the job they did in difficult circumstances.”

Manning is an Army soldier, and the case against him is being handled by the Army, not the Marine Corps, which the Army had said was another reason for the move.

“We just wanted to get him to a place … where his well-being and his care and his pretrial confinement could be the very best that we could provide,” added Army Undersecretary Joseph Westphal. “He is a soldier, he is our soldier, and we felt we needed to take care of that.”

Manning’s treatment during his detention was the subject of intense criticism. The ACLU called his treatment “gratuitously harsh” in a letter sent to U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates. And former State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley was forced to resign after publicly calling Manning’s treatment at Quantico “counterproductive and stupid.”

Manning, 23, was arrested in May 2010 in Iraq after telling a former hacker that he had leaked vast amounts of classified material to the secret-spilling site WikiLeaks. He was subsequently transferred to Kuwait, where he was detained for about two months before being moved to the Quantico brig.

For most of his time at the brig, Manning was held in highly restrictive pretrial confinement. Designated a maximum-custody detainee under prevention-of-injury watch, or POI, he was confined to his cell for all but an hour a day, and has a number of other restrictions placed on him. At one point his clothes were taken away, and he was forced to sleep naked.

The brig maintained that Manning’s treatment was consistent with other prisoners placed under POI watch. But Manning’s attorney filed protests alleging mistreatment and indicating there was no legitimate reason for his client to be under protective watch.

“Manning was awoken at 0500 hours and required to remain awake in his cell from 0500 to 2200 hours,” Coombs claims in the latest motion, and says Manning “was not permitted to lie down on his rack during the duty day. Nor was Manning permitted to lean his back against the cell wall; he had to sit upright on his rack without any back support”.

He was also allowed only 20 minutes of “sunshine call” and was given no more than five minutes in the shower. When he was allowed out of his cell, his arms and legs were bound in metal shackles, preventing him from getting sufficient exercise. He was also given only a pair of running shoes that had no laces so that when he tried to walk in them, while shackled, the shoes fell off his feet, Coombs writes.

Manning was also forced to remove his clothes for an inspection after he protested his treatment.

“It is well established that forced nudity is a classic humiliation technique. The only permissible inference is that the Brig intended to punish Manning by subjecting him to humiliating treatment because Manning correctly pointed out the absurdity of his POI status,” Coombs asserts.

In his motion, Coombs includes a lengthy transcript of a recorded conversation between Manning and his guards that followed a January 18, 2011 incident in which he was bullied by his captors. On the previous day Manning supporters had staged a rally outside Quantico protesting his prosecution.

Redacted: I know what you’re getting at, ok? I’m telling you that we’re not outside the rules and regulations of anything that we’re doing. Period. We’re not. So I need your clothes.

PFC Manning: That’s fine, sir. [Manning strips to his underwear. The rest of the conversation takes place with PFC Manning in his underwear].

Redacted: Skivvies say on?

Other guard: yes. … leave those on.

Redacted: We’re going to get someone over here to talk to you. … You have one mattress, right? You have the one suicide blanket, right?

PFC Manning: Yes. Yes, sir.

Redacted: Shower shoes are fine. Let’s get the doc over here. Redacted. Sit down and see what’s going on. Alright? I need you calm right now, alright? The escalation in your demeanor, alright, weighs us on the side of caution. Do you understand that?

PFC Manning: Yes, MSGT.

Redacted: The best way to explain that to you is you had an outburst. You were moving around. You almost punched a wall. You’re kind of throwing yourself around in the cell. To make sure you don’t hurt yourself we’re putting you on a suicide risk status. We’re upgrading your status.

PFC Manning: But I’m not a suicide risk.

Redacted: That’s not for me to decide. I have to make sure, the brig officer has to make sure, that you’re taken care of.

PFC Manning: I understand MSGT.

Redacted: In the manner that you’re not going to hurt yourself. Right now, I don’t know that. With the display I saw right now, I’m not comfortable with. He’s not comfortable with. Until we get something otherwise, this is how it’s going to be.

PFC Manning: Why was I on, why was I on prevention of status for almost 6 months?

Redacted: [chuckles to himself] I know this is no secret to you … I have plenty of documentation. Plenty of documentation based on things that you’ve said, things that you’ve done. Actions – I have to make sure, we have to make sure, that you’re taken care of.

PFC Manning: Yes, MSGT.

Redacted: Things that you’ve said and things that you’ve done don’t steer us on the side of “ok, well, he can just be a normal detainee.” They make us stay on the side of caution.

PFC Manning: But what about recommendations by the psychiatrist to remove me off the status?

Redacted: Who’s here every day? Who’s here every day? We are. Who sees you every day? That’s all he is, is a recommendation. We have, by law, rules and regulations set forth to make sure from a jail standpoint that Bradley Manning does not hurt himself. Maybe from a psychiatric standpoint, the recommendation he’s given, I get it, I got it, understand, OK? But he’s not the only decision maker. A mental health specialist is not the only decision that gets made.

PFC Manning: I understand that, sir.

Redacted: However…

[Redacted leaves and Redacted enters] [inaudible]

PFC Manning: I got dizzy …

Redacted: Wasn’t dehydration?

PFC Manning: No, I was anxious because I didn’t know why the guards were so edgy. … They raised their voice … And I didn’t … I was getting anxious because they were getting anxious. So I was trying to figure out what was the cause of them getting anxious. It seemed to me that they were looking for something wrong…

Redacted: Something wrong as in a rules violation, or something wrong as in …

PFC Manning: Yes.

Redacted: Rules violation?

PFC Manning: Yes, sir. Because I’ve been here for a long time, so everything becomes automatic. So I don’t know if I say something and they respond. I don’t know what happened. I’ve been in, inside so long – I don’t remember the last time I was outside.

[Portions of the rest of the dialogue between Redacted and PFC Manning are inaudible]

Redacted: So, let’s go back to when you fell down. Did you fall down or did you sit down? Or …

PFC Manning: Ah, it was mixed. I mean, I was getting lightheaded because I was hyperventilating. So, I was trying to stand up. I was trying to keep from falling because I was worried that if I fell, then everybody would panic and that would make matters worse. So, I tried to stand up and I ended up falling…

Redacted: Take me from end of rec hall to … where we are now …

PFC Manning: Ok, yes, I started, I got in here and it was normal. And then I started reading my book. And then, I want to say it was MSGT [inaudible] that was the first to show up. And then he came in and was asking me all these questions. I was, ah, trying to figure out how to word the answers without causing any more anxiety. I was trying to figure out ways of not sounding, or not being construed as … ways that things weren’t going to be construed so that … just trying to figure out ways in which I could tactfully say what I was trying to say without violating any rules and regulation or raise any concern about …

Redacted: Concern’s already raised… [inaudible]

PFC Manning: Yes, but I’m trying not, I’m trying, I’m trying to avoid the concern, and it’s actually causing the concern. I mean, cause, I’m getting … every day that passes by, I’m getting increasingly frustrated, I’m not going to lie. Because I’m trying to do everything that I can not to be a concern, therefore I appear as though I am causing more concern. Or I … Or it seems that I’m causing more concern or everybody’s looking for something to cause concern. So that’s what frustrates me. … Trying to work out the most politically correct way of …

Redacted: [largely inaudible] Let’s go back to today. … The anxiety here, today. That’s not the first time it’s happened since you’ve been in confinement. As far as I know, it is the first time it’s happened since you’ve been here … but a similar situation …

PFC Manning: I wasn’t, in Kuwait, I had no idea what was going on generally.

Redacted: But, would you say it was similar situation?

PFC Manning: No, no. The situation that happened today was more of … you know, I’m lucid and aware and just trying to figure … It’s just a question of trying not to appear like I was in Kuwait. Because that’s my main concern every day, is how do I get off of POI status? How do I get off of POI status? When will I be taken off of POI status? What is being used to justify the precautions? You know … What concerns, you know, what am I doing that’s concerning [inaudible]? So I’m constantly trying to figure out, run through all of those things. And trying to make sure I’m not doing anything…

Redacted: [inaudible] … As time goes on, we have less of a concern, ok?

PFC Manning: Yes, GYSGT. But the restrictions were still in place. And I was …

Redacted: Right. And we continually… We understand it’s not normal that we have someone in POI for this period of time…

PFC Manning: Yes.

Redacted: It’s not [normal] … I guess we’ll just leave it at that. So as we go on, we’re going to lessen your restrictions. They’re still be restrictions in place … [inaudible] But I would have to disagree with you as far as what happened today happened in Kuwait … anxiety attack …

PFC Manning: No, in Kuwait, I wasn’t lucid. I had …. [guard interrupts]. It was like a dream…

Redacted: But, they both ultimately ended up in you having an anxiety attack … controlled fall, but …

PFC Manning: No, I don’t remember falling in Kuwait at all.

Redacted: Well, I can tell you, that’s what was reported to us … none of us were there [refers again to PFC Manning’s suicide status Kuwait] … Us, as a facility, we have to always err on the side of caution, okay. And not just the side of caution, but over-caution. Especially when we’re talking about suicide, okay? Nobody’s saying you’re going to kill yourself, alright? [inaudible] But we always have to be more cautious than that. But you’re saying that ‘nobody else is on suicide watch.’ The thing is what happened in Kuwait, what happened today …

PFC Manning: Those are totally different. I understand, I understand, I understand, where you’re getting that … from the documentation. I mean, I quite, I know where I am. I know I am … I know I am at Quantico base facility. I know that I’m at a brig. I mean, I’m lucid and aware of where I am. I’m not …

Redacted: You asked [MSGT] a question … about why you’re on suicide watch, I’m trying to answer that question, okay? Did I answer that?

PFC Manning: Uh – no. No, with context. Because the fact that …

Redacted: [inaudible] Did you understand that?

PFC Manning: I would have understood had … had I not been … I would have understood had … had I not been … I mean, I’m trying to think of how to word this proper …

Redacted: Provoked? Provoked?

PFC Manning: Yes, a little. I feel like the facility, honestly, I feel like the facility is looking for reasons to keep me on POI status.

Redacted: Inaudible. I can tell you ‘no’…

PFC Manning: I mean, at least not at the staff level, I’m thinking the CO – me, myself, personally.

Redacted: Inaudible … From a logistical standpoint, it’s a burden on us. …

PFC Manning: Yes, MSGT.

Redacted: Nobody finds that as a joy. It’s not a punitive thing, I understand why someone would see it as a punitive thing because restrictions placed [inaudible] … I can tell you that … since you have been here … I wish I had a hundred Mannings …

PFC Manning: And that’s what… And that’s where I don’t understand why the continuation of the policy and restrictions beyond the time recommended by you and the psychiatrist. I mean the psychiatrist, is saying. I mean, I’ve got my own forensic psychiatrist that’s saying now that the POI status is actually doing psychiatric harm and not, you know, and it’s actually, you know, increasing my chances, rather than decreasing…

Redacted: Did you feel like that two weeks ago?

PFC Manning: What’s that?

Redacted: Did you feel like that two weeks ago?

PFC Manning: Yes GYSGT.

Redacted: Uh, two weeks ago, I asked you, like, how you were feeling and you said you were fine, do you remember that?

PFC Manning: Yes, and I still feel fine. I mean, I feel, I feel fine, but at the same time, I’ve been putting in, I’ve been putting in…