By Ellen Nakashima and Peter Finn
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, September 1, 2010; 11:16 PM
The sergeant who supervised Bradley E. Manning, the Army private accused of leaking classified material to the online site WikiLeaks, was so concerned about the soldier's mental health that he disabled Manning's weapon late last year, the private's attorney said Wednesday.
Despite those concerns, the sergeant continued to let Manning work as an intelligence analyst, a position that afforded him access to classified databases at a forward operating base in Baghdad, said his attorney, David E. Coombs.
The sergeant removed the bolt from Manning's weapon in December but did not refer him for mental health services, Coombs said in an interview.
"They did send him to talk to a chaplain," he said. "But that was it."
Coombs said Manning's supervisor had noticed the private displaying "dissociative behavior." On at least three occasions, Coombs said, the sergeant documented that Manning "did not respond appropriately" to questions posed to him and exhibited mental problems.
Attempts to reach the sergeant for this article were unsuccessful, and the Pentagon did not respond to requests for comment.
Manning, who is being held at Quantico Marine Corps Base, is at the center of an investigation into perhaps the largest-ever leak of classified military documents.
Establishing whether he had mental health issues at the time of the alleged leak could be a line of defense if his case proceeds to trial.
Coombs said he had no knowledge of whether Manning leaked anything.
He was moved from detention in Kuwait to Quantico in late July because of concerns that he was suicidal and required greater attention, Coombs said. In Quantico, he was initially held in solitary confinement because of those concerns, Coombs said.
The private is receiving medical treatment for depression and insomnia, including a regimen of drugs, and is being evaluated by a forensic psychiatrist, Coombs said.
Manning, 23, who lived in Potomac before entering the Army in 2007, was charged in July with downloading a classified video and State Department cables onto his personal computer and transmitting them to an unauthorized person.
The Army alleged that the leaks took place between Nov. 19 and May 27.
In April, WikiLeaks posted online video footage of an Army helicopter attack that killed several civilians in Baghdad, including two Reuters employees. The video created global headlines.
In July, WikiLeaks posted online more than 75,000 classified but low-level U.S. military field intelligence reports and other documents covering the Afghan war from 2004 to 2009.
Manning is now a suspect in that leak as well, officials have said.
Concern over his mental stability has led the Army to conduct a formal review, known as a 706 inquiry, to evaluate his mental state at the time of the alleged offenses were committed, and his ability to take part in his own defense.
Coombs, the lead attorney on Manning's defense team, which includes Army lawyers, said that when he visited the private Tuesday for the first time, "he seemed to be doing much better."
Manning was demoted to private first class May 24 after he assaulted another person that month, according to an Army spokesman. The spokesman did not specify the motive for the assault.
Five days later, the Army detained Manning as a suspect for leaking classified information.
Manning was turned in by a former computer hacker in whom he confided via instant messages. The former hacker, Adrian Lamo, said he went to authorities out of concern for national security.
Manning has been visited by friends and family members in recent weeks.
"He was in surprisingly good spirits," said one relative who visited Manning. "He said he was being treated well."
The relative described a spartan visiting facility consisting of cubicles with glass separating visitors and prisoners, and an Army guard patrolling nearby. Manning was wearing fatigues and was handcuffed.
The relative, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said their conversation was confined mostly to catching up on family goings-on. The relative said Manning was glad to hear that a support group had been formed to raise money for his defense.
"He seemed grateful for it, that people were doing that," the relative said.
Manning asked whether there had been media coverage of his case, the relative said. "I told him that when he had been transferred, it was on the CBS and NBC nightly news, and he was like, 'Oh - I was on TV?' "
Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.