Army Pfc. Bradley Manning’s defense attorney argued Tuesday that the soldier’s former jailers at the Marine Corps brig at Quantico mistreated him to protect themselves from recriminations over their high-profile prisoner.
David E. Coombs said Quantico officials ignored the opinions of multiple health professionals that Manning was not a risk to himself or others and kept him isolated in a tiny cell 23 hours a day.
“They were more concerned with how [their actions] would appear to the Marine Corps and Quantico than if Manning was at risk of self harm,” Coombs said in his closing arguments in the pretrial hearing at Fort Meade.
Army Maj. Ashden Fein, one of the prosecutors, countered in his closing argument that the guards only intended to protect Manning. “Yes, they were cautious,” Fein said. “They wanted to get him to trial.”
Manning, 24, is accused of giving hundreds of thousands of classified military and diplomatic documents to WikiLeaks, an anti-secrecy organization. He faces life in prison if convicted of the most serious of the 22 charges against him, including aiding the enemy.
At Quantico, Manning was kept on either suicide watch or injury-prevention status for months. Every night for two months, he was stripped of his clothing and had to sleep in a gown known as a “suicide smock.”
Manning was monitored 24 hours a day and Quantico officials testified that he danced in his cell and played peekaboo with them, behavior they interpreted as unbalanced.
“The fact that Manning’s spirit is not broken is amazing,” Coombs said. “Being treated as a zoo animal for that period of time has to weigh heavily on the psyche.”
Coombs contends that Manning’s confinement was so harsh that the charges should be dropped or he should be given extra credit at sentencing.
After his arrest, Manning was called a traitor by some members of Congress and a hero by activists. Coombs said senior military officers tracked his confinement because they feared bad publicity.
“If the brig could have put him in a straitjacket and padded room, they would have done that,” he said.
The attorney said Marine Lt. Gen. George J. Flynn monitored Manning’s case from the outset and sent an e-mail to the brig commander saying that Manning was “a prime candidate to take his own life.”
Manning listened quietly, occasionally reviewing paperwork. He testified earlier that he considered suicide after he was arrested in May 2010 in Iraq. But he said he was not a danger to himself or anyone after those early days. Multiple health professionals agreed, but their opinions were set aside by the brig commander.
In arguing the military’s case, Fein said there was no evidence that Manning was subjected to extreme treatment. He reviewed the testimony of 14 guards, pointing out that all of them said their job was to protect Manning.
Fein acknowledged that Manning was held improperly on suicide watch on two occasions for a total of seven days. He said Manning should receive credit for those days at sentencing.
Manning is now being held at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas. His next hearing is set for mid-January, and the court-martial will begin in mid-March.