WikiLeaks suspect Manning will be transferred from Quantico to Fort Leavenworth

Pfc. Bradley Manning, who has spent the last nine months isolated in a Marine jail as the man suspected of leaking classified information to WikiLeaks, will be moved from his tiny cell in Quantico to a new Army facility at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., better suited to long-term detainees, military and defense officials said Tuesday.

The move, which follows intense international criticism about Manning’s treatment, will be “imminent,” Pentagon general counsel Jeh Johnson said. One military official said it is expected to happen Wednesday.

“We just wanted to get him to a place . . . where his well-being and his care and his pre-trial confinement could be the very best we could provide,” Army undersecretary Joe Westphal said Tuesday at a news conference. “He is a soldier. He is our soldier. And we felt we needed to take care of that.”

Although Johnson asserted that the move was not a criticism of Quantico — “we remain satisfied that Private Manning’s pretrial confinement . . . was in compliance with legal and regulatory standards in all respects,” his and others’ remarks made clear that senior officials considered Leavenworth to be more appropriate for Manning, and that negative publicity brought the issue before them.

“Because this has been in the newspapers, people at our level have been involved in taking a look at that as well,” Johnson said. The series of high-level meetings began several weeks ago, officials said.

In recent weeks, criticism of Manning’s confinement conditions reached new levels. Amnesty International, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture and a British member of parliament all expressed concern about Manning being held alone in a 6-by-12-foot cell for 23 hours a day.

“Leavenworth is where he should have been to begin with. Quantico is where you send someone to ‘break’ them,” said Pete Perry, an organizer with the Bradley Manning Support Network, which held a recent rally outside Quantico to protest Manning’s treatment. “I think all the pressure is paying off. No, of course he is not free, but I believe this is an improvement.”

As a maximum-security detainee under prevention of injury watch, he had been made to hand over his clothes at night and sleep in boxers with no blanket or pillow. For a few days, he was made to strip at night when the jail commander judged him to be a risk for self-harm.

Such conditions prompted then-State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley to call Manning’s treatment “ridiculous, counterproductive and stupid.” Crowley was forced to resign, and has since stood by his remarks, although he called the private’s prospective prosecution “necessary and legitimate.”

Johnson said that officials preferred to keep Manning at Quantico pending the completion of his interview with a board of psychiatrists who will determine his mental competence to stand trial. The so-called 706 board interview was completed April 9 at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, officials said. The medical review is not yet complete.

Meanwhile, officials began to review other facilities better suited to long-term detentions, with more services, Johnson said. The medium-security Joint Regional Correctional Facility at Leavenworth opened in January. The cells are 80 square feet, slightly larger than his current cell. A psychiatrist, psychologist and social worker live at the facility and are available around the clock, said Lt. Col. Dawn Hilton, the joint regional correctional facility commandant.

Quantico was built to house pre-trial inmates for about two months, whereas Leavenworth can hold pre-trial and post-trial inmates with sentences of up to five years, she said. After an initial assessment, Manning will be eligible to receive three hours of recreation time indoors and outdoors and will have the opportunity to regularly interact with other detainees, Hilton said.

Manning’s attorney, David E. Coombs, suggested on his blog Tuesday that the Pentagon’s move was related to his seeking a court ruling on whether Quantico officials violated Manning’s constitutional right to due process. His legal motion, he said, was based on reports of a January meeting in which he said a senior Quantico official reportedly ordered that Manning be kept in maximum custody indefinitely despite a jail psychiatrist’s objection. “We will do whatever we want to do,” the official reportedly said, Coombs wrote.

If Manning’s case proceeds to trial, it will be held in Washington, Johnson said.

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