The attorney for Bradley Manning is asking a military court to remove at least seven years from any term his client is sentenced to if found guilty for crimes relating to his alleged role with WikiLeaks.
David E. Coombs, the civilian lawyer for US Army Private First Class Bradley Manning, has released a 28-page supplement for the defense’s case, and in it he accounts for several incidents of malfeasance and misconduct carried out by the US military and staffers at the Quantico Brig in Northern Virginia at the hands of his client (link).
PFC Manning, 24, is accused of contributing hundreds of thousands of sensitive military documents to the WikiLeaks whistleblower site, which the government claims in turn directly jeopardized the security of the United States. How it did as much, however, remains up for discussion, and the government has, on the record, refused to disclose just how damaging Manning’s alleged crimes have been.
Because PFC Manning was subjected to a series of abuses identified by Coombs in the supplement, he asks that the court credit his client with 10 days of time-served for every one day spent at Quantico, a deal that would remove as much as seven years off of any sentence for Manning.
Coombs had originally asked for the military to entirely drop their case, United States v PFC Manning, on the basis that his client was cruelly imprisoned and subjected to torturous conditions during his time at Quantico and the months after. Taking into account all time spent in custody so far, including his current imprisonment in Ft. Leavenworth, KS, PFC Manning has been behind bars for over 800 days. In this week’s supplement, Coombs writes that the 265 days his client spent at Quantico constitutes illegal pretrial punishment in violation of Article 13 of the UCMH, as well as both the Fifth and Eighth Amendments to the US Constitution.
According to the material released this week by Mr. Coombs, the Pentagon staffers who oversaw operations at the Quantico brig where Manning was initially held exercised little to no oversight in how a human being, who hadn’t at the time been charged with a crime, was treated at the base, losing both his civil and constitutional rights in the process. At the root of the problems, writes Coombs, is that the leading official who oversaw the handling of PFC Manning at Quantico had his “orders and directives” handed from “the top of the food chain,” resulting in “a culture of indifference for how the confinement conditions were impacting PFC Manning.”
“Instead of following the recommendations of their mental health professionals, Quantico officials chose to discount the wisdom of their advice and concentrate more upon any potential negative publicity,” Coombs writes. “Even the judge advocates at Quantico abdicated their moral responsibility to speak up when the chain of command was going awry.”
“Ultimately, those who should have done something to address PFC Manning’s confinement conditions did nothing,” the attorney argues. Instead, writes Coombs, Quantico’s management subjected PFC Manning to conditions considered torturous by an United Nation’s special rapporteur to ensure that the soldier didn’t attempt to take his own life, an option that, while considered unlikely by experts, would have been a PR disaster for the military. But while physicians suggested that Manning be removed from suicide-watch during his stay at Quantico, “concern over embarrassment” at the top of the pyramid at the brig was instead “adopted by the entire chain of command.”
In one example, for instance, Coombs quotes a Defense Department memo where it was decided Manning would be continued a possible suicide case, not from a risk standpoint, “but for security reasons.”
“It is clear that the Brig was risk averse to the point of absurdity,” Coombs writes, insisting, “if they could have put PFC Manning in a strait-jacket for nine months without calling undue attention to themselves, they would have.” Instead, though, Quantico staffers simply stripped Manning naked and kept him confined to a small, dark space because, in their own words — according to one internal email quoted by Coombs — they “felt like being dicks.”
In another email quoted by Coombs, one Quantico staffer to another leaves instructions for watching over Manning, writing, “You should be taking his panties right before he lays down.”
“This sort of communication is clearly not appropriate in a professional setting. However, it reflects the culture at Quantico — a culture where “boys will be boys” and nobody is held to account for their conduct,” writes Coombs.
“The fact that a senior enlisted would refer to a detainee’s undergarments as ‘panties’ in correspondence with four subordinates demonstrates not only incredibly poor judgment, but also a culture where anything goes,” writes Coombs. The defense also alleges that the comment is an example of the blatant intolerance at the Brig which could have targeted Manning, a homosexual.
Pre-trial hearings in the case against PFC Manning will continue next month at Ft. Meade, Maryland. The actual trial itself is currently slated to run from February through March of next year, during which point Manning will have been held more than 1,000 days in prison.