Military commanders committed a crime by keeping Bradley Manning in unnecessarily strict conditions at a Marine Corps brig for nearly nine months, the alleged WikiLeaks source’s defense attorney charged Monday in his first public speech about his client’s case.
“Brad’s treatment at Quantico will forever be etched in our nation’s history as a disgraceful moment in time,” David Coombs told about 100 Manning supporters at a Washington, D.C., church Monday night. “Not only was it stupid and counterproductive — it was criminal.”
Manning, an Army private and intelligence analyst, was arrested in May 2010 in Iraq on suspicion that he leaked thousands of military reports, diplomatic cables and videos to WikiLeaks. He was jailed at Quantico from July 2010 until April 2011 and kept in what his defense says amounted to solitary confinement throughout his time there. He was usually kept in his cell between 21 and 23 hours each day, according to testimony at a recent court hearing on his detention.
The strict conditions were the result of Manning being designated as a “suicide risk” and on “prevention of injury” watch throughout his time at Quantico. Commanders kept him in that status despite repeated recommendations from psychologists and psychiatrists that such treatment end.
Coombs said Monday he was reveling in his opportunity to call Manning’s military jailers to testify at an ongoing hearing that began at Fort Meade, Md., last week. During the session, the defense is seeking to demonstrate that Manning was subjected to unlawful pretrial punishment.
”I’m enjoying my opportunity to cross-examine those who had Bradley Manning in those conditions for nine months,” Coombs said during a 12-minute speech. “Those who could effect change did not. They were more concerned about how the attention might be put on them if something happened to Brad as opposed to what was their conduct doing to Brad.”
The military’s formal response to Coombs’s claims is unknown because officials have refused to release court filings, exhibits and orders related to Manning’s court martial. However, during the hearing last week, prosecutors suggested that the jailers’ fears were well-founded because Manning made a noose while he was being held in Kuwait and indicated on an intake form that he’d had suicidal thoughts.
President Barack Obama said at a news conference in March 2011 that he’d been assured that Manning’s treatment at the Virginia brig was “appropriate” and met “our basic standards.”
When Manning was moved from Quantico to Fort Leavenworth, Kan., the next month, Pentagon officials defended how he’d been handled at the brig.
“We remain satisfied that Private Manning’s pretrial confinement 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,” Defense Department General Counsel Jeh Johnson told reporters.
Manning is awaiting a court martial on charges including aiding the enemy, disclosing classified information to unauthorized individuals and disobeying orders. The trial is expected to get under way in February or March.
Manning faces a potential sentence of up to life in prison. He has offered guilty pleas to some of the charges, but they’ve yet to be formally accepted and there’s no indication that the military is giving up on proving all of the charges against him.
Manning’s supporters view the Army soldier as a whistle-blower who brought to light the misdeeds of U.S. military personnel and foreign governments through his alleged leaks.
Coombs suggested it was ironic that Obama signed legislation to protect whistle-blowers last week, just as Manning’s hearing was under way.
“How can you reconcile that? I don’t know the answer to that,” Coombs said.
The liberal activists in attendance gave Coombs a standing ovation at the beginning and end of his remarks but looked on skeptically as he defended the military justice system.
“A military court martial is, in my opinion, the best courtroom you can go into. … Bradley’s in the best venue possible for him,” the Army reservist and veteran military lawyer insisted as he answered written questions submitted by journalists. “In every instance, the military rights exceed [those] that you would have in a state or federal court. … This is a very fair system.”
Coombs said Manning is “very encouraged” by how the court martial proceedings are unfolding and hopes someday to enter public service. The defense lawyer said Manning told him he wants to “join some kind of campaign group, go into public service and perhaps one day run for public office.”
That day could be pretty far off. The military judge assigned to the case has calculated that Manning could receive a sentence of up to 16 years solely on the charges to which he has offered to plead guilty.
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