Why Quantico ignored psychiatrists and abused Bradley Manning
In the fifth day of this week’s pretrial motions hearing for PFC Bradley Manning, government’s witnesses today tried to justify keeping Bradley in effectively solitary confinement. In cross-examination, defense lawyer David Coombs revealed their reasoning to be circular, inaccurate, and otherwise problematic. See notes from day 1, day 2, day 3, and day 4. GYSGT Blenis will testify during tomorrow’s hearing, which starts at 9:30 AM.
By Nathan Fuller, Bradley Manning Support Network. December 1, 2012.
Government witnesses today attempted to explain their various reasons for keeping PFC Bradley Manning on restrictive conditions at the Quantico Marine brig, for the defense’s motion to dismiss based on unlawful pretrial punishment, revealing cyclical, tenuous, and near-insurmountable justifications for the treatment. Gunnery Sergeant William Fuller testified, at Fort Meade, MD, that the severity of his charges, his strained family relations, his earliest statements regarding suicide, and poor communication were the justifications brig staff used for putting Bradley on Prevention of Injury (POI) watch and maximum custody (MAX).
The government has charged Bradley Manning through an unprecedentedly broad interpretation of “indirectly aiding the enemy,” which technically carries the death penalty and which could land Bradley in prison for the rest of his life. Officials at the Quantico Marine brig then used those severe charges, as well as claims that Bradley was at risk to harm himself or others, to detain Bradley in what is effectively solitary confinement. GYSGT Fuller conceded that Bradley had no recourse to change his charges while at Quantico, and also that that reasoning was used to justify Bradley’s status throughout his detention at Quantico. Of course, Bradley’s charges remain the same as he awaits trial in Fort Leavenworth, KS, but he is in medium custody there and his current psychiatrists, as well as the Ft. Leavenworth garrison commander, agree he doesn’t pose a risk of harm.
GYSGT Fuller said he sat on roughly a third of the weekly Classification and Assignment (C&A) boards that reviewed Bradley’s custody and status and determined if they would change or remain the same. With both brig commander Averhart and his replacement brig commander Barnes, GYSGT Fuller concurred each week with their recommendation to keep Bradley on POI watch, which necessitates MAX custody. GYSGT Fuller said another reason given by Averhard and Barnes to segregate the young Army private from the rest of the Quantico population was his “poor family relations.” He conceded in court today, though, that that factor was outside Bradley’s control.
The explanations for Max Custody POI status that GYSGT Fuller and the government prosecution tried to focus on past statements Bradley had made regarding a desire to commit suicide, and his minimal communication with Quantico guards and other staff. GYSGT Fuller referenced Bradley’s written statement on the day he arrived at Quantico, July 29, 2012, that regarding suicide he was “always planning, never acting” and testified it weighed heavily on GYSGT Fuller’s mind. He said Bradley’s safety was his top priority and that “open-ended statement” justified POI for Bradley’s duration at the Marine brig, despite the fact that his psychiatrists Cpt. Hoctor and Cpt. Malone had documented that for many months Bradley posed a low risk of self harm. The psychiatrists testified earlier this week that the July statement didn’t concern them as it was far in the past, and it is common for someone’s thoughts about suicide to change significantly over time.
Bradley attended a C&A board on January 21, 2011, to attempt to clarify that the “always planning” statement wasn’t an accurate reflection of his thoughts either in July or about suicide at the present time. He explained that he wasn’t suicidal, and that he wrote the comment sarcastically, because he was told by brig staff that after his traumatic experience in Kuwait he would be placed on Suicide Risk no matter what he wrote. GYSGT Blenis, Bradley’s brig counselor who directed the C&A boards, told him later on January 21 that if he wasn’t being truthful in that initial intake statement, he also couldn’t be trusted at that C&A meeting where he was asking for his status to be changed.
GYSGT Fuller’s testimony later revealed, however, that GYSGT Blenis entered the C&A boards – in which all three board members are supposed to discuss and reconsider Bradley’s classification status – having already written down his recommendation that Bradley remained on POI. The other two board members were then simply asked to concur with GYSGT Blenis’s recommendation (which they did every single time).
GYSGT Fuller also explained that Bradley’s limited communication with Quantico staff and apparently withdrawn demeanor was cause for concern, as it may have indicated depression. GYSGT Fuller said that guards told him that Bradley was constantly polite and followed orders, but that he frequently gave curt responses when they asked how he was doing. GYSGT Blenis, for his part, reported to the other members of the C&A board that Bradley didn’t interact with him in the same manner as did other detainees.
However, two former Quantico guards, Lance Corporals Tankersly and Cline, testified today that the guards did not typically have extensive conversations with detainees. They said it would be unprofessional to have long, informal discussions with the prisoners – anything more than asking how they were doing — though they did say that Bradley was on the quiet side, sometimes giving just one-word responses. All three guards questioned also said that Bradley was almost always polite and respectful to them as a detainee.
Brig psychiatrists testified believing that Bradley was primarily withdrawn because of his isolating conditions, and brig guards acknowledged during defense questioning that that was a realistic possibility. Bradley explained that he lost trust in his brig counselor, GYSGT Blenis, in early December when learning from his psychiatrist that GYSGT Blenis wasn’t being truthful in telling Bradley that the doctors were keeping him on POI. He then couldn’t understand why he was being kept on POI status, and began pursuing administrative channels to change it.
GYSGT Blenis takes the stand tomorrow to testify regarding his role in isolating Bradley on MAX/PIO status against the wishes of not only Bradley but also his psychiatrists.