Accused WikiLeaker Manning says he was punished before trial

At Fort Meade, lawyers will ask judge to dismiss all charges against him

  • Army Private Bradley Manning is escorted away from his Article 32 hearing February 23, 2012 in Fort Meade, Maryland.
Army Private Bradley Manning is escorted away from his Article… (Mark Wilson, Getty Images )
November 25, 2012|By Matthew Hay Brown, The Baltimore Sun

Army Pfc. Bradley Manning is due back at Fort Meade this week, where lawyers for the alleged WikiLeaker plan to argue that he was punished at a military brig before his case had been heard — grounds, they say, to dismiss all charges against him.

By the time he arrived at the Marine Corps brig at Quantico, Va., Manning was world famous. The former intelligence analyst, who lived in Maryland before enlisting in the Army, had been accused of giving hundreds of thousands of classified documents to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks.

While being held at Quantico pending trial, his lawyers contend, Manning was singled out for punishment, in violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the U.S. Constitution. He has been charged with violating the Espionage Act and aiding the enemy.

Manning, 24, is the only suspect arrested in the largest leak in U.S. history. He is accused of sending raw field reports from Iraq and Afghanistan, diplomatic cables from U.S. embassies around the world and a video of a U.S. helicopter attack in Baghdad to be published by WikiLeaks. If convicted, he could be sentenced to life in prison.

To some, Manning is a traitor; to others, a hero. His alleged mistreatment at Quantico, where he was held from July 2010 to April 2011, drew concern from Amnesty International, the British government and the United Nations' anti-torture watchdog, among others, and helped to make him an international cause celebre.

The Marine Corps and the Pentagon have said Manning was not mistreated.

During Manning's first five months at Quantico, his lawyers said, he was held in "the functional equivalent of solitary confinement" — confined to a 6-by-8-foot cell, with no window or natural light, for more than 231/2 hours each day.

He was awakened at 5 a.m. each morning and required to remain awake until 10 p.m., according to his lawyers. He was not permitted to lie on his bed or lean against the cell wall. He was not allowed to exercise in his cell.

Guards were required to check on his well-being every five minutes. If they could not see him — if he was asleep under his blanket or turned to the wall — they would wake him.

His lawyers contend that those and other "egregious" conditions at the base near Washington amounted to illegal pretrial punishment.

In court papers, lawyer David Coombs said commanders kept Manning in maximum-security custody and on prevention-of-injury status — under which he was not allowed a regular blanket or pillow, and forced to undergo the regular guard checks — in spite of a favorable security assessment and the recommendations of brig psychiatrists.

According to Coombs, the psychiatrists said Manning did not present a risk to himself, and the prevention-of-injury status was actually causing him psychological harm.

Coombs said a senior officer resisted changing Manning's status. The officer, whose name is blacked out on documents released by Coombs, told brig officials that "nothing is going to happen to PFC Manning on my watch" and "nothing's going to change."

Coombs described the conditions as the "flagrant violation of Pfc. Manning's constitutional right to not be punished prior to trial."

The Quantico brig was closed in December 2011 as part of the national military base realignment process known as BRAC. A spokesman for the Marine Corps base at Quantico could not be reached for comment.

In April 2011, Manning was transferred to the Fort Leavenworth Joint Regional Correctional Facility, where Coombs said he has been classified as a medium-custody detainee. He has been allowed to eat and socialize with other detainees, walk around without metal shackles and keep personal hygiene items in his cell.

Dwight H. Sullivan, a former Marine Corps attorney who now teaches at George Washington University, said military law allows for the dismissal of charges against a suspect who is found to have been punished before trial — but such cases are rare.

"It's not something that one often sees," Sullivan said.

Generally, he said, a judge who finds that a suspect has been punished before trial may credit that punishment against any eventual sentence, so Manning has "great incentive" to get his allegations on the record now.

Should the charges against Manning stand, he is seeking a "10-to-1" credit — a credit of 10 days served for every actual day he has spent in pretrial confinement.

Manning, who lived in Potomac and studied at Montgomery College before he enlisted in the Army in 2007, faces a court-martial scheduled to begin in January.

Coombs listed Manning as a witness in the pretrial hearing to begin Tuesday at Fort Meade.

Amnesty International called the conditions of his confinement at Quantico "unnecessarily severe" and said they amounted to "inhumane treatment."

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