Saturday, December 1, 2012

Bradley Manning case heads back to court

Larry Shaughnessy
November 27th, 2012

A U.S. Army private accused of leaking classified documents, many of which wound up on the WikiLeaks website, was back in court Tuesday.

At a pre-trial hearing at Fort Meade, Maryland, lawyers for Private first class Bradley Manning and the military judge hearing his court martial addressed procedural issues surrounding the possibility he would plead guilty to minor charges.

One issue in play is whether a guilty plea would cause Manning to waive his right to a speedy trial on other counts.

The bigger issue for the week involves a bid by Manning and his attorneys to have serious charges dismissed on grounds that he was mistreated while in military custody. If that fails, they are seeking to have his sentence reduced on grounds that his treatment while he was held at Marine Base Quantico in Virginia was tantamount to punishment.

Much of Tuesday’s hearing focused on the testimony of retired Marine Col. Daniel Choike, who commanded Quantico during Manning’s detainment there.

Choike testified that he found out about 48 hours in advance that Manning was being transferred from a detainment facility in Kuwait to Quantico. Almost immediately, he realized that the brig at the base was not ready for a detainee like Manning. “No, Quantico was not a place for long-term pretrial confinement,” Choike testified.

One of his concerns was that the base had no medical officer trained in psychiatry who could monitor and treat Manning, who arrived with a warning that he was a suicide risk.

Almost immediately after Manning’s arrival, Choike started receiving e-mails from his immediate supervisor, Lt. Gen. George Flynn, who oversaw Marine Corps training, including activities at Quantico. Before the Manning case, Choike said, Flynn took little interest in any activities at the brig.

Flynn marked one e-mail to Choike as “high importance,” pointing out that he wanted to make sure people involved in his detention knew that Manning was “at risk of taking his own life.”

Choike testified that he e-mailed Flynn back, promising a weekly update on Manning’s case. Shortly after that e-mail, he said he spoke to Flynn who told him not to send weekly updates because Flynn “didn’t want details … he wanted to make sure his guidance on the case was understood.”

Manning’s attorney, David Coombs maintains that listing Manning as a risk of suicide or personal injury led to him being forced to stay in his cell more that 23 hours a day, often being forced to sleep in the nude or stand outside his cell in the nude.

In spite of Choike’s testimony that Flynn didn’t want details, Coombs produced other e-mails where Flynn continued taking interest in the case, including an e-mail chain about the PBS investigative series “Frontline” requesting an interview with the person in charge of the brig and Manning’s treatment there, said Chief Warrant Officer James Averhart.

“Gen. Flynn was interested in details that involved the media.”

Flynn wasn’t alone in his interest. Another e-mail cited by Coombs said Gen. James Amos, the commandant of the Marine Corps, “wanted to be kept up to date on Manning.”

Choike testified that Manning could have been taken of “Prevention of injury” (POI) status, in any given week had a three person board at the brig decided he was no longer a threat to himself. That would have meant he could get more clothes and sleep at night under a regular blanket as opposed to an anti-suicide blanket.

But Coombs produced a document that showed Averhart “directed” that Manning stay in POI status until a sanity board finished reviewing his case.

Coombs claimed that Averhart’s direction was an order that had to be followed and that the weekly board meetings about removing Manning from POI status were meaningless. Choike testified that he considered Averhart’s comments to be a statement, not an order.

Regardless of whether Averhart’s comments were an order or not, Manning was never removed from POI status or maximum security detention until after he was moved from Quantico to a new facility run by the Army in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Averhart was removed as commander of the brig about two months before Manning was moved.

Manning is expected to testify later this week about his treatment at Quantico, according to some of his supporters who have been closely following the case.

The Army intelligence analyst is suspected of leaking hundreds of thousands of classified military and State Department documents while serving in Iraq.

Many of them ended up on the WikiLeaks website. WikiLeaks has never confirmed that Manning was the source of the information.

Charges against Manning, 24, include aiding the enemy, wrongfully causing intelligence to be published on the Internet, transmitting national defense information and theft of public property or records.

He could receive a sentence of up to life, if convicted.
Manning's lawyer, Coombs, filed a motion last August to dismiss the counts based on a claim, Manning says, of illegally harsh treatment while held at the brig at the Marine base at Quantico, Virginia.

He was held there from July 2010 until he was moved to the military prison at Fort Leavenworth in April 2011, according to Jeff Paterson, a spokesman for the Bradley Manning Support Network.

Before the start of Tuesday's proceedings, about a dozen people protested outside Fort Meade. When the hearing began, about 30 Manning supporters, many wearing shirts that read "Truth," were inside the courtroom or a nearby trailer where they followed the proceedings on closed circuit television.

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