By Ellen Nakashima
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 21, 2011; 6:00 AM
The lawyer for alleged government secrets leaker Bradley Manning is accusing military authorities of using punitive measures against Manning at the Marine Corps jail in Quantico, Va.
Manning, a 23-year-old Army private suspected of passing thousands of classified documents to the online site WikiLeaks, was placed on suicide watch for two days this week - against the recommendation of the jail's forensic psychiatrist, attorney David E. Coombs said.
During this time, Manning was forced to stay in his cell around the clock, stripped to his underwear, the lawyer said. His prescription eyeglasses were taken from him, except for the hour of television he is allowed to watch or when he was reading, Coombs added.
The circumstances of Manning's confinement have drawn public attention. The United Nations special rapporteur on torture has said he submitted to the State Department a formal inquiry about Manning's treatment.
The liberal Web site Firedoglake.com says a petition urging that Manning be treated humanely will be delivered this weekend to Quantico; its site founder says that the petition has drawn more than 30,000 signatures.
On Wednesday, Coombs filed a complaint with Marine Corps Base Quantico, alleging that the commander of the brig, or detention facility, abused his discretion by placing Manning on suicide watch.
Brig commander James Averhart had determined the 23-year-old was a suicide risk, Coombs said.
But after the Army Staff Judge Advocate's office urged him to reconsider the designation, Averhart removed the suicide watch Thursday and restored Manning to "prevention of injury" watch. Manning is also being held under maximum custody, which has its own set of rules.
A Quantico spokesman, First Lt. Scott Villiard, said that he did not know why Averhart recommended the suicide watch, but that the determination was "based on input from more than one person." That included medical professionals, mental health professionals and the Marine guards who watch detainees, he said.
Averhart "has a responsibility to make sure that these detainees are safe, secure and make it to trial," Villiard said.
Coombs responded that the forensic psychiatrist has consistently recommended - with the exception of one week in December - that there was "no medical reason" for Manning to be even on a prevention-of-injury watch, let alone a suicide watch. He said he pressed for a reason behind the status change this week, but was given none.
"The fact that they won't articulate any basis for it leaves you with no other conclusion than it must be punitive," he said.
Coombs said he will eventually file a motion alleging that the conditions of Manning's confinement amount to unlawful pretrial punishment, in violation of Article 13 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
Under prevention-of-injury watch, Manning may have no sheets or pillows, though he does have two blankets and a built-in pillow in his foam mattress, Coombs said. He is not allowed personal items, and may have one book or magazine at any given time to read.
As a maximum-custody detainee, he is restricted to his cell for 23 hours, takes meals in his cell and is barred from exercising there. During the one hour of recreation time allowed in maximum custody, detainees have access to weight equipment, treadmills and elliptical machines, Villiard said.
"The most important thing is that we're not treating Private Manning any differently from anyone else that would be in the same classification" Villiard said. "Whether it's maximum custody or prevention of injury, he's being treated the same as anybody else."
David House, a Boston computer researcher who has regularly visited Manning, said in a blog posting last month that Manning told him that he had not been outside for recreation or exercise in four weeks.
Prior to last week, Manning was allowed only to walk in an empty room for his recreation time, Coombs said. He usually walked in figure-eights until his hour was over, he said.
Villiard said Manning was placed in maximum custody because authorities determined that his escape "could pose risk to life, property or national security."
Coombs said, "I find it just incredible to say now he'd be a flight risk. You'd have to go through no less than five locked doors, remote-access-controlled, to get outside. Even then you would be on Quantico base. He couldn't escape from there if he wanted to."