Quantico staff denied outsiders facts on Bradley Manning’s treatment

Four witnesses today and their contrasting testimony reveal a Quantico brig staff more interested in appearances of legal compliance than Bradley’s human rights. The witness portion of this Article 13 motion is done, and tomorrow parties will make their closing arguments. 

By Nathan Fuller, Bradley Manning Support Network. December 10, 2012.

Defense lawyer David Coombs speaks to military judge Col. Denise Lind. Courtroom sketch by Clark Stoeckley.

Today was the 10th day of testimony at Ft. Meade, MD, for the defense’s Article 13 motion to dismiss charges due to unlawful pretrial punishment. After Brig Commander Denise Barnes finished testifying, we heard from Quantico’s Deputy Investigator General Major Timothy Zelek, Army Captain Bruce Williams, and Army Captain Joseph Casamatta, Bradley’s Company Commander. Chief Warrant Officer Barnes, the second Officer-in-Charge of Quantico while Bradley was there, gave long, often circular, and clearly defensive testimony to justify her decision to keep Bradley on Prevention of Injury (POI) watch during the duration of her command and to remove his underwear starting on March 2, 2011. She appeared to be on edge throughout her time on the stand, suspicious of defense questions and repeatedly emphatic about both her interest in Bradley’s safety and her authority to handle his conditions however she chose.

Her guarded demeanor and rambling responses starkly contrasted with Cpt. Casamatta’s seemingly genuine interest in Manning’s health and simple, direct answers to questions on the stand

As brig commander, CW2 Barnes answered to Colonels Oltman and Choike, who then reported up to three-star General George Flynn with weekly updates on Bradley’s conditions.  As revealed in previous testimony, General Flynn was likely a conduit for the Pentagon at large. CW2 Barnes thus felt her career depended on maintaining safety and security at the brig, as well as squashing any questions as to whether brig operations had been conducted improperly: she told the defense, when interviewed before this hearing, that she worried if something happened on her watch she’d lose her job with no retirement options – a risk her more-experienced predecessor, CW4 Averhart, didn’t have to take.

Cpt. Casamatta, however, was in Bradley’s command chain in the Army, so he could focus on Bradley’s well-being at the Marine brig, as opposed to Quantico’s reputation. A member of Bradley’s command met with Bradley at least every two weeks, to interview him privately in an attempt to ensure he was being treated well. Cpt. Casamatta conducted most of these sessions, and Bradley told him in September 2010 that he didn’t want to be on POI watch.  Bradley also notified Cpt Casamatta of his underwear removal in March, and he told the captain at nearly every official interview that he didn’t understand the reasoning behind his restrictive treatment. Unlike Bradley’s jailers, Cpt. Casamatta said he had a good rapport with Bradley, who he found engaged throughout their discussions.

When told about Bradley’s comment that resulted in CW2 Barnes removing his underwear, that everything else had been taken away and if he really wanted to, he could use his skivvies’ elastic band, Cpt. Casamatta understood it as sarcastic. He testified today, “He’s an intelligent and articulate person. Quite frankly I didn’t believe he would have such thoughts as to actually kill himself with his underwear.”

The Army captain reached out to inquire about Bradley’s conditions multiple times, including to CW4 Averhart and the Special Court-Martial Convening Authority Col. Carl Coffman.

Col. Coffman told Cpt. Casamatta that he would address the underwear removal within his command, but it would seem that the colonel failed to follow through.  CW4 Averhart and the other Quantico staff told Cpt. Casamatta that Manning was on POI to ensure that he wouldn’t harm himself or others. Cpt. Casamatta was satisfied for the time being as he felt that Bradley’s best interest was driving the brig’s unusual actions. However, it was revealed through court testimony today that brig staff did not give the captain all the facts regarding the treatment about which Bradley complained. No one at Quantico or elsewhere told Cpt. Casamatta that for nine months, multiple brig psychiatrists advised the jailers to remove Bradley from his restrictive conditions, which kept Bradley in the 6×8 ft cell for 23 hours a day.  These psychiatrists testified in court two weeks ago that leaving Bradley on POI watch was actually detrimental to his psychological health. Asked when he learned that the doctors wanted Bradley to be treated normally, Cpt. Casamatta said, “Once this trial started.”

Cpt. Casamatta said that if he’d been informed of the psychiatrists’ opinions while Bradley was at Quantico, he would’ve readdressed the issue within his and Quantico’s command structures.  He emphasized in court today, that “As commander I should’ve been privileged to that info, if only for another avenue to speak” on the soldier’s behalf, and that if he could, “I’d [have] like[d] to be part of the decision-making process.”

Cpt. Casamatta was never given enough information to understand the full severity of the treatment Bradley endured at Quantico, and thus could never evaluate it properly.

Maj. Zelek’s couldn’t either, though it’s possible he never wanted to. Maj. Zelek, who worked under Col. Choike, noticed a surge in phone calls and emails calling for better treatment for Bradley in December 2010. He noticed what he thought was sensationalist media coverage and wanted to get to the bottom of it, as he headed inspections and investigations. Maj. Zelek approached Marine Headquarters with the idea for an investigation into Bradley’s conditions at Quantico, only to discover they had no interest in such a thing. Dissatisfied and eager to clarify what he thought was confusion about Manning’s treatment, Maj. Zelek convinced Col. Choike to let him investigate the brig himself.

Maj. Zelek spent less than two hours at Quantico, during which CW4 Averhart showed him the special quarters where the detainees lived, including a guided viewing of the inside recreation room, the outside rec area, the cafeteria and and the library. But Maj. Zelek never interviewed Bradley, and also did not review his custody or classification. He never knew that Bradley was allowed only 20 minutes outside, or that when he did get some sunshine, he was forced to keep metal shackles on his legs, precluding meaningful exercise. Like Cpt. Casamatta, he never saw the psychiatrists’ recommendations to end the abusive conditions. Instead, he merely made sure that the treadmill belt spun, the food wasn’t rancid, and the showers were clean. It didn’t occur to Maj. Zelek to investigate whether Bradley was treated like the other detainees, or whether his behavior warranted all of his assigned restrictions.

And Quantico, of course, had no interest in providing this information to Maj. Zelek, or Cpt. Casamatta. It might have been that Maj. Zelek’s review was doomed from the start: after all, its results only mattered if Col. Choike, who as Quantico base commander reported to Gen. Flynn, was influenced by the investigation’s results to change Bradley’s treatment. But Cpt. Casamatta, in the Army, could’ve had a real impact if he knew that the psychiatrists felt Bradley’s status should be downgraded and his restrictions relaxed. It certainly seemed like he wanted to – as he left the stand today, “prosecution witness” Cpt. Casamatta passed government lawyer Ashden Fein with hardly a glance, and strided over to the defense table where he shook Bradley’s hand before he left.


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