Bradley Manning punished for charges before trial
Brig commander CWO James Averhart testified all day in Ft. Meade, MD, about his role in keeping Bradley Manning on senselessly abusive conditions. He is the first to stress that Bradley’s charges and their national security implications put him at risk in Quantico and therefore warranted restrictive treatment. Tomorrow, his replacement, CWO Barnes, will testify.
By Nathan Fuller, Bradley Manning Support Network. December 6, 2012.
James Averhart, the officer who made the final call to keep PFC Bradley Manning isolated on maximum, restricted custody in a 6×8 cell for nine months, testified today in Fort Meade, MD, to explain his approval of Manning’s treatment. He said that the severity of Bradley’s charges, which carry extremely long sentences, was a major factor in his decision to keep the young Army private on these conditions.
A Chief Warrant Officer and Quantico’s Commanding Officer until January 2011, CWO Averhart also testified about specific incidents in which he kept Bradley on Suicide Risk status for several days against Navy regulations, more details of Bradley’s confinement, and the process by which he approved keeping Bradley on Prevention of Injury (POI) each week.
CWO Averhart made the final decision on Bradley’s custody and classification each week after receiving the Custody and Assignment (C&A) board recommendations, reviewing psychiatrists’ advice, and speaking with the brig counselor about his impressions. But his testimony reveals that Bradley’s confinement status might as well have been preordained before his arrival at Quantico: CWO Averhart said Bradley’s charges, which at the time included the Article 134 charge risking harm to United States’ national security, carried such long sentences that Bradley was at risk to harm himself or be harmed by others.
He said that because the other detainees in the brig – of which there were only about 6-10 at any given time – were “very patriotic” and “knew why PFC Manning was there,” so he was concerned that something might happen to the WikiLeaks whistleblower if allowed to comingle with the general population. He said this informed his decision to keep Bradley on POI, as did Bradley’s suicidal thoughts in Kuwait. To test this claim, defense lawyer David Coombs asked – all other factors being equal – if Bradley had faced charges that would bring a court-martial and only a brief sentence, if he would receive the same treatment, and CWO Averhart said he wouldn’t put him on POI.
This is a shift from the testimony for most of the last week, in which Quantico guards, staff, and especially Bradley’s counselor, then-GYSGT Blenis, emphasized Bradley’s allegedly poor communication with his jailers as their main cause for concern. CWO Averhart did say that he heard from others that Bradley was incommunicative, but when Bradley launched an Article 138 complaint (a generic complaint alleging abuse by a superior officer), protesting his unjustified POI status, CWO Averhart’s response, which was drafted by GYSGT Blenis, didn’t even mention Bradley’s communication issues.
CWO Averhart’s testimony conflicted with CWO Abel Galaviz’s testimony as well. Navy corrections regulations state, “When prisoners are no longer considered to be suicide risks by a medical officer, they shall be returned to appropriate quarters.” Yesterday, and in his investigative findings last year, CWO Galaviz said that CWO Averhart violated this regulation twice, by keeping Bradley in Suicide Risk conditions August 6-11 and January 18-20 against psychiatrist Cpt. William Hocter’s recommendation that Bradley’s status be reduced to POI. Today, CWO Averhart defended his authority, saying the word “shall” in that regulation didn’t mean, “immediately shall,” and therefore as brig commander he was justified in removing Bradley on his own accord.
CWO Averhart gave new details about Bradley’s cell conditions, revealing that the cells on either side of Bradley’s were occupied by equipment, so he never had a detainee next to him. He also said that the C&A board chose Bradley’s cell upon his arrival.
He seemed to be confused about Bradley’s restrictions during recreation: when told that unlike other maximum security detainees, Bradley was forced to keep his leg restraints on when he went outside for exercise, CWO Averhart said, “I don’t remember that.” But Coombs told him that Quantico Staff Sergeant Brian Papakie testified that they remained on, and he said, “They should’ve been taken off.”
The portion that was consistent with this hearing’s testimony was CWO Averhart’s misgivings about Cpt. Hocter’s mental health recommendations. He said, as nearly all other Quantico officials have, that Cpt. Hocter was “in and out” and didn’t spend enough time with Bradley or give a complete evaluation to the C&A boards. CWO Averhart never told Cpt. Hocter he didn’t trust him, or that he thought he should spend more time at the brig.
Coombs replied, “You said, regarding Manning’s status, there was a lack of communication – do you also see you had a lack of communication with Cpt. Hocter?”
“I could see that, sir,” he said.
We’ll delve into more inconsistencies with CWO Averhart’s and other Quantico officials’ testimonies from this hearing as the Article 13 session nears a close. Tomorrow, CWO Barnes, who replaced CWO Averhart as brig commander on January 24, 2011, and who ordered Bradley strip naked in early March 2011, will testify tomorrow. The hearing will continue next week, from December 5-7.