The psychiatrist who treated WikiLeaks suspect Bradley Manning while he was in custody in a Marine brig at Quantico testified yesterday that Manning was held in extreme solitary confinement, in isolated and humiliating conditions, against his medical advice. As Ed Pilkington reports in the Guardian today:
Captain William Hoctor told Manning’s pre-trial hearing at Fort Meade that he grew frustrated and angry at the persistent refusal by marine officers to take on board his medical recommendations. The forensic psychiatrist said that he had never experienced such an unreceptive response from his military colleagues, not even when he treated terrorist suspects held at Guantanamo.
“I had been a senior medical officer for 24 years at the time, and I had never experienced anything like this. It was clear to me they had made up their mind on a certain cause of action, and my recommendations had no impact,” Hoctor said.
The psychiatrist was testifying at Manning’s court martial for allegedly being the source of the massive leak of hundreds of thousands of confidential US government documents to the whistleblower website WikiLeaks. The 24-year-old soldier, who worked as an intelligence analyst until his arrest in Iraq in May 2010, faces 22 counts and possible life in military custody.
Manning’s defence lawyers are attempting to have the charges thrown out or any eventual sentence reduced by seeking to prove that the soldier was subjected to unlawful pre-trial punishment at Quantico. During the nine months he was in custody at the marine base in Virginia he was put on suicide watch and a “prevention of injury” order, or PoI, that kept him in solitary confinement and exposed him to extreme conditions that were denounced by the UN and Amnesty International as a form of torture.
Shortly after he began treating Manning, following his arrival at Quantico in July 2010, Hoctor did briefly recommended that the prisoner be placed on suicide watch. But he changed his recommendation within a week, and by late August was urging that Manning be returned to the general population. “I was satisfied he no longer presented a risk,” Hoctor testified. “He did not appear to be persistently depressed, he was not reporting suicidal thoughts, in general he was well behaved.”
Hoctor was asserting that Manning no longer needed to be held under harsh POI (prevention of injury) conditions. Under these conditions, Manning was held alone in a bare cell for at least 23 hours a day, barred him from all contact with other people but checked every five minutes by guards. Lights were kept on at night, and Manning slept on a suicide mattress without bedding and even had to ask for toilet paper when he needed it. (During one period, he also had even his underwear removed and was forced to stand naked for inspection.) Manning remained on POI througout his stay at Quantico, despite Hoctor’s orders.
According to the Guardian, “The blanket denial of his expert opinion was unprecedented in his quarter century of practice, the psychiatrist said. ‘Even when I did tours in Guantanamo and cared for detainees there my recommendations on suicidal behaviour were followed.’…Hoctor said that the marine commanders should no longer pretend they were acting out of medical concern for the detainee. ‘It wasn’t good for Manning. I really didn’t like them using a psychiatric standard when I thought it clinically inappropriate,’ Hoctor said.
The best blow-by-blow reporting from this and other pre-trial hearings in the Manning case comes from Kevin Gosztola at FireDogLake, who yesterday reported on the testimony of retired Colonel Daniel Choike, who served as the Quantico Marine Brig commander during the nine months that Manning was imprisoned there.
As Gosztola reports, at one point, Manning defense attorney David Coombs asked about a March 2011 incident “where Manning said to an officer if he really wanted to kill himself he could with the elastic waistband of his underwear or with his flip-flops.” That led officers to take away his underwear and flip-flops “without consulting any mental health professionals.” Coombs described in the motion:
On 3 March 2011, PFC Manning was told to get out of bed for the morning DBS [Duty Brig Supervisor] inspection. PFC Manning was not given any of his clothing back before the morning inspection. PFC Manning walked towards the front of his cell with his suicide blanket covering his genitals. The Brig guard outside his cell told him that he was not permitted to cover himself with his blanket because that would mean that he would not be standing at parade rest. PFC Manning relinquished the blanket and stood completely naked at parade rest, which required him to stand with his hands behind his back and his legs spaced shoulder width apart. PFC Manning stood at parade rest for about three minutes until the DBS arrived. Once the DBS arrived, everyone was called to attention. The DBS and the other guards walked past PFC Manning’s cell. The DBS looked at PFC Manning, paused for a moment, and then continued to the next detainee’s cell. After the DBS completed his inspection, PFC Manning was told to go sit on his bed. Several minutes later, PFC Manning was given his clothes and allowed to get dressed. PFC Manning was also required to stand naked at attention the next four days…
In his commentary, Gosztola concludes that Choike “did not find the March incident where Manning was stripped naked to be egregious.” He continues:
And that is the key to understanding the officers, who have been in key positions of authority to ensure Manning’s rights were not violated. From Col. Carl Coffman, the Special Court Martial Convening Authority, to Daniel Choike, the Quantico Brig commander, to Lt. Gen. George Flynn, the Quantico Base commander, none of these people in positions of authority were willing to take any steps to bring this travesty and farce to an end.”
Staff Judge Advocate Lt. Col. Christopher Greer sent an email joking about Manning having his underwear taken from him: “As Dr. Seuss would say, I can wear them in a box. I can wear them with a fox. I can wear them with socks. I can wear them in the day so I say. I can’t wear them at night. My comments gave the staff a fright…”
This crude variation of Green, Eggs and Ham did not bother someone like Choike. None of what was going on, despite the fact that he admitted from the outset it was bad to have Manning imprisoned more than 90 days at Quantico, motivated him to take action.
All officers like Choike cared about was that—as Flynn put it— Quantico would not be “left the holding the bag” if something happened to Manning. And whatever they could do to limit media attention or get out in front of details on Manning’s confinement appearing on Coombs’ blog would be done to make it seem there was nothing going on with Manning and there was no reason for any senior officials or members of the public to be concerned.
Manning himself is expected to testify about his experiences in the Quantico brig, possibly as soon as tomorrow.