Bradley Manning takes stand, puts military captors on trial

By Nathan Fuller, December 23, 2012.

Bradley Manning in court, with the suicide blanket he was forced to use. Sketch by Clark Stoeckley.

Bradley Manning in court, with the suicide blanket he was forced to use. Sketch by Clark Stoeckley.

Spanning nearly three weeks and comprising more than a dozen witnesses, the Article 13 hearing on the defense’s motion to dismiss based on unlawful punishment was PFC Bradley Manning’s longest pretrial hearing yet. The defense has moved to throw out all charges against the WikiLeaks whistleblower, arguing that the military has violated the UCMJ’s Article 13, which prohibits pretrial punishment. Through testimony from prison guards, high-ranking military officials, and Bradley himself, defense lawyer David Coombs chronicled Bradley’s eleven months in solitary confinement, focusing on the nine months in the Quantico Marine brig, from July 29, 2010, through April 20, 2011.

Earlier in July, three-star General George Flynn emailed the Quantico chain of command, notifying officials of Bradley’s impending arrival and explaining that he believed Bradley was a suicide risk. When Manning got to the brig, he was evaluated and determined to need only medium security. But the Duty Brig Supervisor, likely influenced by Gen. Flynn’s directive, overrode that determination and placed Manning on Suicide Risk (SR) watch. From then on, Manning was on SR or Prevention of Injury (POI) watch throughout his entire imprisonment at Quantico. Gen. Flynn was updated weekly on Manning’s treatment.

At Quantico Bradley was in a 6×8 ft cell for 23 hours a day, got only 20 minutes of sunshine daily for his first six months, had to eat alone in his cell, wore metal shackles on his arms and legs whenever he left it, couldn’t talk to other detainees, was monitored verbally every few minutes and visually around the clock, and had to ask guards to use books, soap, or even toilet paper.

Coombs described the impact of these conditions in his only public appearance, on December 3: “Brad’s treatment at Quantico will forever be etched into our nation’s history as a disgraceful moment in time.”

Bradley details abusive confinement

We finally heard the young Army private we’ve been supporting for two and a half years, who turned out to be articulate, intelligent, and remarkably poised for someone who survived nearly a year of solitary confinement. On the stand for several hours over two days, Bradley chronicled his experience since arrest, from his harrowing trauma in Kuwait, to his exhaustive efforts to end his restrictive conditions in Quantico, to his much-improved status in Fort Leavenworth.

In Kuwait, Bradley was isolated in a tiny metal cell, which made him feel disoriented and “trapped.” He couldn’t talk to anyone else, and no one explained what was happening to him. Forced to sleep during the day and work at night, and placed in a “shark attack environment” by guards, in which they give conflicting orders so that everything he did was wrong, Bradley had an anxiety attack and passed out.

“I had pretty much given up,” he said. “I thought I was going to die in this 8×8 animal cage.”

Guards said they found two nooses in his cell, only one of which Bradley vaguely remembered making. He said he’d known a noose was futile, as he had no place to hang it. When he boarded a plane to leave Kuwait, he prayed he was going to Germany but expected to land in Guantanamo.

When he got to the Marine brig in Virginia, the psychiatrist at the time, Captain William Hocter, recommended Bradley be placed on SR for his first week, to monitor his acclimation. He then advised reducing his status to POI on August 6, 2010, but brig commander and Chief Warrant Officer (CWO) James Averhart didn’t reduce it until August 11. CWO Abel Galaviz, head of Marine corrections, later testified that this delay was a violation of Navy regulations.

Bradley was then placed on POI, so he endured nearly all of the restrictions imposed on suicidal detainees – the only discernable difference being that Suicide Risk required the psychiatrists’ approval. Still a maximum-security detainee, he remained on lockdown, with metal shackles for his 20 minutes of daylight, and as a “self-harm risk” he still had to ask for the most basic personal items.

A fluorescent light blared into Bradley’s cell at all times, but at night he wasn’t allowed to cover his face. If guards couldn’t see his face, they’d wake him up – often multiple times a night.

Quantico ignored mental health professionals

Nearly every single week, brig psychiatrists implored top officials to remove Bradley from these conditions, avowing both that there was no psychiatric need for his isolation and that his treatment was worsening his mental health. Yet Quantico’s brig commanders – first Chief Warrant Officer James Averhart, then CWO Denise Barnes – kept him on SR or POI, both maximum-security classifications, for his entire time in the brig.

In mid-January, Cpt. Hocter pressed Quantico’s Battalion Commander, Col. Oltman, on the matter, saying Bradley had no mental-health reason to remain on POI and that he’d never been ignored like this before. Col. Oltman told him to make his recommendation and that Bradley would be kept on POI regardless. Testimony on his wording varies, but Cpt. Hocter recalls Col. Oltman saying that Bradley would be kept on POI “indefinitely.”

CWOs Averhart and Barnes cited Bradley’s trauma in Kuwait, “poor” communication with brig staff, “erratic” behaviors in his cell, and the severity of his charges to justify keeping him on POI. But these issues were all examined, reviewed, and cleared by mental health professionals. Guards said his behaviors were normal for a bored prisoner, and doctors said he wasn’t at risk to himself.

In countering the defense’s motion, government prosecutors focused almost solely on Bradley’s physical health – noting that Bradley did make it to his court-martial alive, and at one point asking Quantico guards, “Did he get three hot meals a day?” – evincing serious negligence of Bradley’s psychological well-being.

This negligence echoed that of Quantico officials. Guards monitored every Bradley’s move, but did they ever care how isolation affected him? Didn’t they realize that forcing him to ask for toilet paper was dehumanizing?

In his closing argument, Coombs said, “If the Quantico brig could have put him in a straightjacket in a padded room and not had anybody complain, they would have.”

CWO Barnes said that if something happened to Bradley, she wouldn’t have retirement options to fall back on. GYSGT Blenis said that if Bradley hurt himself, it’d be Blenis facing a court-martial.

“They were more concerned with how [their actions] would appear to the Marine Corps and Quantico than if Manning was at risk of self-harm,” Coombs said.

This negligence of Bradley’s mental health is tantamount to punishment. Bradley endured nine months of solitary confinement, weeks of that including forced nudity at night, regardless of the guards’ intentions. If Judge Denise Lind recognizes this punishment, she’ll have to dismiss Manning’s charges, or at least give him credit at sentencing.

34 thoughts on “Bradley Manning takes stand, puts military captors on trial

  1. PFC Manning’s heroic actions exposed the horrors of the imperialist wars against foreign workers in Afghanistan Pakistan and many other countries.
    If PFC Manning were in the general population he would have many friends and possibly cause an uprising among the military personnel. I think that is the fear among the brass.
    Conditions for the GI’s in these wars are causing untold numbers of suicides. A soldier who is willing to stand up against these conditions might lead others by his example. Free Bradley Manning; Jail the generals and the jailers!!!

  2. This is such a sad and riveting story. More and more people ‘on the street’ now know the name: Bradley Manning. If they aren’t concerned about Bradly, they should be concerned that the “Patriot” Act, now makes it legal to pronounce this punishment on ANY american the military or civilian courts feel justified in charging. It is scary, like how Russia treated dissenters. I am lighting a candle for Bradley every night and just hoping he makes it out of the military judicial system with his psych intact. YOU DID THE RIGHT THING BRADLEY MANNING. You brought light to the hundreds of lies people are being told around the world. One good thing about being in prison all this time: there’s been ample time to see that any information that was passed on has not caused a single bit of terrorism or acts of violence etc that the US is using as the reason to lock him up. All that happened is WE KNOW NOW how the military and governments are run; what is hidden and how our money (USA) is being spent. The very method of denying this trial to happen in a timely fashion, is the military beyond doing anything according to the rules? Very disheartening in this age of evolvement. What a poor example for this most powerful country to give to the World. Shame on us.

  3. The treatment that PFC Manning received at the hands of our military, and particularly at the hands of the Marine Corp., is a national disgrace. The Marine Corps. officers who kept him in solitary confinement for over nine months should be forced to retire from service, or at the very LEAST, receive a reduction in rank.

  4. Readin this and well understanding the Military that cares less for its detainees than there self protection for retirement and Ata-Boys fronm superiors . It is still confusing to me to hear Coombs telling the world how Military Justice is fair and the best ..I spent 20 years in the Navy and Witnessd a lot of Military Justice and it was usualy some Officers deciding the fate in a room over there lunch and careing little for facts or situations and justice to the one they already condemnd ..I for one am positive that the Judge in Bradley mannings case has already made up Her mind and talkd it over with her superiors and formd an opinion ..There can be no Doubt Military Courts are in the interest of the Military and nothing more . So Mr. Coombs how can you tell how it is so fair and justice ??..It so apears to be the direct oposite of what you describe …Love to hear youre remarks on Military Justice …I certainly am not convenced it exests …

  5. I’m so relieved that Bradley Manning’s treatment is being made public and the utter wrongness of it is being acknowledged. I’m encouraged that Bradley is still coherent and articulate and healthy enough to take a strong stand for himself.
    Blessings on him and and all those who summon the courage to speak out as a whistleblower.

  6. We have moved far from our Constitutional vision of human rights and free speech. Its time to reinstate the liberties removed after 911. Lets take control of this government our founding Fathers knew would be a challenge from the start!

  7. I am so disgusted with the actions of the Military Command that sanctioned these inhumane actions against Pvt. Bradley Manning. And him not even Charged. To think that I have had two sons retire from the Military..a military that I was once proud of having been a Military wife for almost 20 years. The hero is Bradley Manning. He was only a 20 year old young man..barely 5’1″ tall. How he has managed to survive such monstrous treatment proves that he is made of sterner stuff than those Supposedly more Manly Men. The shame is on Them.

  8. Hi Bradley, my name is Betty, I’m teaching history in France. You deserve a fair trial. Whistle blowing on war crimes is not a crime !

  9. There is punishment, and then there is punishment compounded thousands or millions of times over, deliberately removing from a person moment to moment their ability to come up with coping mechanisms for the moments deliberately inflicted distress. Then there is deliberate interference with the body and brain’s ability to function and heal from those stressors, including being able to accommodate to current situation, and the prevention of appropriate sleep processes and cycles, when many healing, repair, and completions of such processes occur. Then there is the deliberate perpetuation of these things over time, changing the set points of stress and thyroid hormones among others. This keeps a person in a state of heightened stress and non-optimal physiological response including an inability to regain normal physiological function. CIA research into the physiological effects of torture is specific about these effects and demonstrates acute knowledge of the harm done by these practices, as documented by Physicians for Human Rights in their white paper on torture. Was Bradley Manning punished? If punishment were a drop of water, Bradley Manning has gotten an ocean. Torture has a relationship to punishment but mostly in the mind of the ones doing or perpetuating it–the reality is far far more, and far removed from either a sane or a appropriate response to perceived wrongdoing.

    • You are so right on. How can we as a country of people let this happen to a person and still going on after this long. Why has the military so much infulence, over our country? And no one can interfere? where are our real leaders to defend this suitation even the president with his hands in his pocket and his eyes shut. Why can,t the seals steal him into another country, or else take the ones who have tortured him and put them on an island somewhere with rats. Sorry Im getting carried away. I am so upset about this young soldier. My husband was in the marine corp as a drill sgt and nothing was this bad. No more enlisted men for america until Bradley is released.

  10. Hang tough, Bradley. We care about you and support you! Thank you for exposing the hypocrisies and lies perpetrated on the American people by an out-of-control and corrupt CIA organization!

  11. Let’s all remember, before we jump to conclusions about the charges against Pfc Bradley Manning, that they are just charges.

    He is innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

    Manning has confessed to nothing. The head of the organization Manning is accused of leaking the documents to, Wikileaks, has said nothing to confirm or deny Manning as a source of documents they released.

  12. It’s interesting to consider the charges and the defense. In a forensic, legal way.

    The stuff of this trial gets right down to the fundamentals of humanity and soldiery, even though the legal arguments are much less expansive. However, the argument that the UCMJ should even apply goes up in smoke when you realize how arbitrary and corrupt are the United States codes, including UCMJ. So what this is really about is something much bigger.

    Let it be known that if anyone ever tries to say that UCMJ or USC applies to me, I will deny it on the grounds of 9/11. Then let the tyrants take their masks off and we can again get down to the fundamentals of humanity and soldiery.

    There is even a religious aspect to things, which I won’t bother mentioning them here. But I’ll still say that this touches at the heart of world religions (even among the atheistic).

    Never lie to me and then tell me what the law is. I’ll expose you.
    -the Spirit of Bradley Manning

  13. Merry Christmas Brad. I hope you are comforted a bit by knowing there are many people worldwide with you in their thoughts. Cheers

  14. Merry Christmas Bradley, we wish you the best, and hopefully you can go to France and meet Betty the school teacher! Don’t know if you have been to France but we have and its a Beautiful Place deserving the likes of a true Hero just like YOU! Hang in there!!!

  15. Good point. It will be interesting to see what the court says about this. Military justice is a bit like military music – really bad.

    The politicians know who there funders are etc huh?


    I repeat tho ….. NO COVERAGE in Uk 🙁

  17. Hey Soldier, I hope things are going better for you now,I must admit at first I almost bought into all the media hype,making you out to be a traitor to Our Country, and those you serve with, however after viewing the footage of Our APACHE chopper crew gunning down innocent civilians, I could no longer have anything but respect for your decision to expose
    the war crimes committed by those who have yet to be tried in a court of law,and also their commanding officers,that conspired to cover up their unlawful actions! I hope that your attorney does you justice, Hope he is able to prove in your pretrial that there was unlawful command influence, from the commander in chief,down to the gunery sgt. the US v Cruz is some miltary history, in volving a bunch of soldiers in the 80’s their post commander,Col Lessley Beavers used unlawful command influence,calling the soldiers out in formation, calling them names and putting them in their own platoon called the”PEYOTE”platoon platoon,this

  18. I learned as a young Marine back in 1962 from a good buddy of mine: NEVER, NEVER, NEVER go to the Marine BRIG! If you thought Boot Camp was bad–you haven’t seen anything, Yet. It was brutally cruel if you were being held for a security violation. The Military must be very, very upset with Bradley.

  19. It wouldn’t surprise me if the judge succumbs to the poisoning evil of the military and government.
    Justice in a military courtroom is about as abundant as there is truth in the mainstream media.
    Let’s just stay positive, encourage those who wish to reveal the truth from the lies and with every heart we are obligated to stand by these heroes for the wellbeing of humanity.
    Like Betty said from an earlier comment,
    “Whistle blowing on war crimes is not a crime !”

  20. Evil minds that plot destruction
    Sorcerers of death’s construction
    In the fields the bodies burning
    As the war machine keeps turning
    Death and hatred to mankind
    Poisoning their brainwashed minds
    Oh lord yeah!

    Politicians hide themselves away
    They only started the war
    Why should they go out to fight?
    They leave that role to the poor

    Time will tell on their power minds
    Making war just for fun
    Treating people just like pawns in chess
    Wait ’til their judgement day comes

    Now in darkness world stops turning
    Ashes where the bodies burning
    No more war pigs have the power
    Hand of God has struck the hour
    Day of judgement, God is calling
    On their knees the war pig’s crawling
    Begging mercy for their sins
    Satan laughing spreads his wings
    Oh lord yeah!

  21. We stand with Bradley. This is yet another horrible example of military and government human right abuse… President Obama act now!

  22. Bradley, you are a HERO. I would give up my liberty and my life for the betterment if the human race, just as you have out of your convictions. You are not alone, you are not forgotten. What is right will prevail against tyranny.

    • Bradley, you are such a Hero. I am a grandmother and gr grandmother and only 5′ chubby, but I would go to prison for you, you need to be out and live your life, you are young and I am old 75, go very slowly, had cancer, 2 hip replacements ,stroke, Prison would not hurt me at all . I would give my self up in your place. I love you ,you have endured so much .The Spirit of Jesus is within you and I pray for your realease and strength and health, No one can endure what you have and come out whole unless God is with you . He is with you and you have all of us as angels praying for you each day You are our Hero.

  23. However articulate Mr. Manning was when he recognized that he should expose military cruelties and the truly endemic corruption of power, his impulses led him to the right action.

    Bradley, always believe in yourself. You began a course of courage with that single act. Any other choice you knew was wrong.
    This course will lead you to greater understanding of our species and of the world. No life is easy, and at times loneliness is our lot, but when you feel worst, look to your choice, and feel again how you made the correct one. In many ways, many have had to make such a choice
    We treasure you for being true. Only your courage changes the world for the better. I know no better person than you.

  24. Democracy will come to the USA! in the meantime we will fight for you! Fro the netherlands be strong take care. We will never forget you.

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