FORT MEADE, Md. — A former Marine Corps brig commander testified Thursday that a vague rule meant he could keep Pfc. Bradley Manning on suicide watch even after a psychiatrist determined that wasn't necessary, as lawyers for the soldier at the center of the WikiLeaks case chipped away at inconsistencies in the military's rationale for how it jailed Manning.
The Army private has argued in the pretrial hearing that the conditions of his confinement at the Marine base at Quantico, Va., were so harsh that the charges – including aiding the enemy by giving classified information to WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy website – should be dropped.
Regardless of whether they prevail, Manning's attorneys have used the hearing to portray the 24-year-old as a victim of hard-headed captors who went out of their way to punish him even though he has yet to be tried.
On the eighth day of the pretrial hearing at Fort Meade, Chief Warrant Officer 4 James Averhart was called to the stand by prosecutors – their 10th witness in the last five days. Defense attorney David Coombs spent about five hours on a cross-examination aimed at undercutting the government's position that brig commanders believed Manning's treatment was justified to prevent self-injury.
A day earlier, the Marine Corps' chief of corrections testified that Averhart wrongly kept Manning on suicide watch for at least seven days of his nine months' confinement. A former brig supervisor denied making light of Manning's homosexuality when he referred to the soldier's underwear as "panties" in a staff memo sparked by Manning standing naked at attention one morning. Manning claims he was ordered to do so.
The defense claims Manning's confinement amounted to illegal pretrial punishment, and that all charges against Manning should be dropped or he should at least get extra credit at sentencing.
Manning was held at Quantico in maximum custody from July 2010 to April 2011, when he was moved to medium-security confinement at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. While at Quantico, Manning was on either suicide watch or injury-prevention status, both involving additional security measures. Averhart and his successor rejected psychiatrists' nearly weekly recommendations to ease the restrictions that kept Manning in an 8-by-6-foot cell at least 23 hours a day.
Coombs and Averhart sparred Thursday over the meaning of the word "shall" in this military corrections regulation: "When prisoners are no longer considered to be suicide risks by a medical officer, they shall be returned to appropriate quarters."
The defense attorney asked why Averhart didn't act immediately after receiving the psychiatric report. Averhart said the regulation meant the prisoner should be removed from suicide watch "at a particular time to be determined."
"'Shall' does not mean, the way I perceive it, `immediately', or `right now'," he said.
Coombs tried to pin him down: "Does that have a time limitation?"
Averhart said the regulation allowed him to decide when the restrictions should be eased.
"Although the order is vague – it does say `shall,' it does not say `right now' or `immediately,' sir – it still gives me the opportunity to evaluate," he said.
Averhart said he didn't act immediately in part because of Manning's history of anxiety, depression and suicidal gestures, including knotting a bedsheet into a noose in his cell in Kuwait before he was moved to Virginia. At Quantico, Manning was uncommunicative – another suicide risk indicator, Averhart testified.
The Marine Corps chief of corrections, Chief Warrant Officer 5 Abel Galaviz, testified Wednesday that Averhart violated the regulation twice – once in August 2010 for five days and once in January 2011 for two days – after psychiatrists recommended that Manning's handling instructions be relaxed from "suicide risk" to "prevention of injury."
Prisoners on suicide risk are allowed little if any clothing at night and denied even basic overnight amenities, including toilet paper and soap. Manning had to ask a guard for those items.
Averhart also testified on cross-examination that he "misarticulated" a written instruction to a senior brig staff member in late December 2010, directing that Manning remain in maximum custody and on injury-prevention status until the conclusion of his so-called "sanity board." A sanity board is a routine military pretrial proceeding to assess a defendant's mental health. Manning's sanity board issued its final report April 22, 2011, two days after he was moved to Fort Leavenworth.
The ex-brig commander said the directive wasn't an order, but Galaviz testified Wednesday that it sounded like one. Galaviz said the directive could have prejudiced the brig staff members on an in-house board that made confinement recommendations to Averhart.
Averhart testified that when he wrote the memo, he thought Manning's sanity board would convene within weeks. He said he meant to convey that Manning's status would be reviewed after the hearing.
"I misarticulated what that statement should have said," Averhart said. "If I could go back in time and change it, I would."
Averhart testified that he put Manning on suicide watch Jan. 18, 2011, after Manning punched himself in the head during a heated discussion about his restrictions. Averhart had gone to Manning's cell after hearing the soldier had suffered what the defense has characterized as an anxiety attack.
"All I wanted to ensure was that this young man did not hurt himself," Averhart said. "I saw the look in detainee Manning's face. I saw him strike himself in the manner that I did and I wanted to review him."
He also testified that pretrial detainees were supposed to have been kept in the brig for up to 90 days – not nine months – under an agreement with the Defense Department.
The government must prove by a preponderance of evidence that brig officials justifiably believed the strict conditions were needed to keep Manning from hurting or killing himself. The hearing resumes Friday and is scheduled to run through Dec. 12, with Saturday and Sunday off.
Manning, a 24-year-old native of Crescent, Okla., is charged with 22 offenses, including aiding the enemy, which carries a maximum penalty of life in prison. He's accused of leaking hundreds of thousands of classified Iraq and Afghanistan war logs and more than 250,000 diplomatic cables while working as an intelligence analyst in Baghdad in 2009 and 2010. He's also charged with leaking a 2007 video clip of a U.S. helicopter crew gunning down 11 men later found to have included a Reuters news photographer and his driver. The Pentagon concluded the troops acted appropriately, having mistaken the camera equipment for weapons.
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Abuse Of Prisoners
As the <em>New York Times </em><a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/25/world/guantanamo-files-lives-in-an-american-limbo.html?pagewanted=2&_r=1" target="_hplink">reports</a>, Mohammed Qahtani -- a Saudi believed to have been an intended participant in the Sept. 11 attacks -- was subject to coercive questioning and other abuses during his interrogation. The cables describe Qahtani as being leashed like a dog, sexually humiliated and forced to urinate on himself. His file says, "Although publicly released records allege detainee was subject to harsh interrogation techniques in the early stages of detention," his confessions "appear to be true and are corroborated in reporting from other sources."
Arbitrary Nature Of Prison System
As <em>Le Monde</em> is <a href="http://www.worldcrunch.com/wikileaks-guantanamo-why-us-declared-iranian-catholic-drug-dealer-enemy-combatant" target="_hplink">reporting</a>, one "low-value" Iranian-Catholic detainee was kept in Guantanamo even after being deemed ready for release -- given his "cooperative nature" and in the interest of "possible financing relations" between Al Qaeda and traffickers. According to the cables, Abdul Majid Muhammed was deemed fit for release in 2002: "The detainee is not affiliated with Al Qaeda or the Taliban. He was involved in drug trafficking. It is unlikely that he represents a risk for the U.S. or its allies."
An Al Jazeera journalist was <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/25/sami-al-hajj-al-jazeera-j_n_853297.html" target="_hplink">reportedly </a>held at Guantanamo Bay for six years partially so he could be interrogated about the network Sami al-Hajj, a Sudanese national and Al Jazeera cameraman, was captured in Pakistan in late 2001. Though he was never convicted or even tried of any terrorist ties, al-Hajj was held until 2008 because interrogators wanted to find out more about "the al-Jazeera news network's training programme, telecommunications equipment, and newsgathering operations in Chechnya, Kosovo and Afghanistan, including the network's acquisition of a video of UBL [Osama bin Laden] and a subsequent interview with UBL," <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/guantanamo-files/US9SU-000345DP" target="_hplink">according</a> to the cables.
Violent Threats Against Captors
Some detainees are described as ruthlessly violent in the documents. As the <em>New York Times </em><a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/25/world/guantanamo-files-lives-in-an-american-limbo.html?pagewanted=2&_r=1" target="_hplink">reports</a>, one detainee said "he would like to tell his friends in Iraq to find the interrogator, slice him up, and make a shwarma (a type of sandwich) out of him, with the interrogator's head sticking out of the end of the shwarma." Another "threatened to kill a U.S. service member by chopping off his head and hands when he gets out," and informed a guard that "he will murder him and drink his blood for lunch. Detainee also stated he would fly planes into houses and prayed that President Bush would die."
New Details On Post-9/11 Al Qaeda Whereabouts
As the<em> Washington Post</em> <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/wikileaks-discloses-new-details-on-whereabouts-of-al-qaeda-leaders-on-911/2011/04/24/AFvvzIeE_story_2.html" target="_hplink">reports</a>, the documents describe a major gathering of some of Al Qaeda's most senior operatives in early December 2001. They included Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-described mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks; Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the alleged planner of the USS Cole attack; and Abu Faraj al-Libbi, a key facilitator for bin Laden. After returning to Karachi, Mohammed "put together a training program for assassinations and kidnappings as well as pistol and computer training."
"Nuclear Hellstorm' Threat
The leaked files<a href="http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5h9ouUwZB0vhDcEsGB8N2uVcvGFqQ?docId=CNG.e738123e4ccce6019851c695501ca633.9e1" target="_hplink"> indicate</a> Khalid Sheikh Mohammed told Guantanamo Bay interrogators that Al Qaeda had hidden a nuclear bomb in Europe which will unleash a "nuclear hellstorm" if Osama bin Laden is captured or killed. The terror group also planned to make a 9/11 style attack on London's Heathrow airport by crashing a hijacked airliner into one of the terminals, the files showed.
The <em>Washington Post</em><a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/wikileaks-discloses-new-details-on-whereabouts-of-al-qaeda-leaders-on-911/2011/04/24/AFvvzIeE_story_2.html" target="_hplink"> reports</a> Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the alleged planner of the USS Cole attack, "received injections to promote impotence" to avoid being distracted by women, and "recommended the injections to others so more time could be spent on the jihad."
Prisoner Details And Ranking System
Gitmo detainees are <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/wikileaks-discloses-new-details-on-whereabouts-of-al-qaeda-leaders-on-911/2011/04/24/AFvvzIeE_story.html" target="_hplink">reportedly</a> assessed "high," "medium" or "low" in terms of their intelligence value, the threat they pose while in detention and the continued threat they might pose to the United States if released. As Reuters<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/25/guantanamo-files-detainees_n_853309.html" target="_hplink"> reports</a>, most of the 172 remaining prisoners have been rated as a "high risk" of posing a threat to the United States and its allies if released without adequate rehabilitation and supervision.
Gitmo authorities named Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency a "terrorist organization" along with Hamas and other international militant networks, according to leaked documents. As the Associated Press <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/25/pakistan-intelligence-terror-links-guantanamo_n_853274.html" target="_hplink">reports</a>, the ISI is part of a list that includes more than 60 international militant networks, as well as Iran's intelligence services, that are "terrorist" entities or associations and say detainees linked to them "may have provided support to Al Qaeda and the Taliban, or engaged in hostilities against U.S. and coalition forces."