Military Judge Refuses to Toss Out Charges Against Bradley Manning: Calls His Pretrial Punishment Illegal

United States Army photograph of Bradley Manning. United States Army photograph of Bradley Manning. (Photo: US Army)The nine months Pfc. Bradley Manning spent in a windowless cell in Quantico, Virginia – at times without any clothing – amounted to illegal pretrial punishment, a military judge ruled Tuesday.

But Col. Denise Lind refused to dismiss charges against the 25-year-old Army Intelligence analyst, and instead decided that any sentence Manning receives if he is convicted should be reduced by a little more than three months.

Manning was arrested in May 2010 and charged with leaking thousands of diplomatic cables and classified documents to WikiLeaks, an online organization that publishes secret information from anonymous sources.

The veteran of the Iraq war is currently being held at Fort Leavenworth, charged with espionage, aiding the enemy and 20 other counts that could, if convicted, land him in prison for life. His trial is scheduled to begin March 6.

Manning’s attorney David Coombs notified Lind in November that his client may plead guilty to at least some of the charges. But on Tuesday, he asked for a dismissal of all charges.

“Dismissal of charges is not appropriate,” Lind said, except in the case of “outrageous” conduct.

Lind also noted Manning’s pretrial detention was “more rigorous than necessary” and the conditions “became excessive in relation to legitimate government interests.”

Still, there was “no intent [to] punish the accused by anyone on the brig staff,” Lind concluded, according to a report published by blogger Kevin Gosztola of Firedoglake, who has been covering Manning’s pretrial hearings. The intent of brig officials was to ensure Manning “did not hurt or kill himself and was present for trial.”

The Washington Post reported that while Manning was incarcerated, he became “so bored and starved for companionship that he danced in his cell and played peekaboo with guards and with his image in the mirror – activity his defense attorney [David Coombs] attributed to ‘being treated as a zoo animal.'”

He was barred from exercising in his cell and slept on a mattress with a built-in pillow. He had no sheet, only a blanket designed so that it could not be shredded.

Manning testified that he thought about committing suicide after his arrest and later sought to assure prison guards that he was not a danger to himself, but he was unsuccessful as the conditions of his confinement worsened.

“Forensic psychiatrists who saw Manning testified last month that there was no medical reason for him to be on suicide watch,” the Washington Post reported.

The government admitted last month that Manning was improperly kept on suicide watch for about a week.

Last year, Juan Mendez, the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Torture concluded the United States government subjected Manning to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment after he was arrested in Iraq.

In an addendum to a report presented to the UN General Assembly on the protection of human rights, Juan Méndez wrote that “imposing seriously punitive conditions of detention on someone who has not been found guilty of any crime is a violation of his right to physical and psychological integrity as well as of his presumption of innocence.”

Mendez, himself a survivor of torture during Argentina’s “Dirty War,” spent 14 months investigating Manning’s treatment. He accused US officials in a December 2010 letter of using harsh tactics, like solitary confinement, against Manning “in an effort to coerce him into ‘co-operation’ with the authorities … allegedly for the purpose of persuading [Manning] to implicate others.”

Méndez stressed in his UN report that “solitary confinement is a harsh measure that may cause serious psychological and physiological adverse effects on individuals regardless of their specific conditions.”

According to the Mendez report:

To the Special Rapporteur’s request for information on the authority to impose and the purpose of the isolation regime, the [US] government responded that the prison rules authorized the brig commander to impose it on account of the seriousness of the offense for which [Manning] would eventually be charged.

Additionally, “[d]epending on the specific reason for its application, conditions, length, effects and other circumstances, solitary confinement can amount to a breach of article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and to an act defined in article 1 or article 16 of the Convention Against Torture.”

The US government countered, according to Méndez’s report, that Manning was not subjected to “solitary confinement,” rather he was under “prevention of harm watch,” a point Col. Lind highlighted during Tuesday’s hearing at Fort Meade.

Méndez told Truthout during an interview in December 2011 that he had “frank conversation[s] with the [Department of Defense] about the conditions of [Manning’s] incarceration” and requested that he be permitted to visit and speak with the soldier confidentially.

“I was allowed to see him, but with no guarantees of confidentiality, terms that I could not accept,” said Méndez, who highlighted this point in his report. “I offered to see Manning nonetheless, through his lawyer, if he wanted to see me, but he preferred not to waive his right to a truly private conversation.”

Col. Lind did not find anything unusual about Mendez being denied a private visit with Manning and said brig officials were well within their rights to deny the UN official an unmonitored visit with Manning.

Lind spent more than 90 minutes reading from each page of her ruling. She did this because, as Gosztola noted, “there is no ruling for the public to read.”

According to Gosztola, as reported in Firedoglake:

The reading of the ruling today was a prime example of why a challenge against secrecy in the court martial proceedings brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights to grant the press and the public access to court filings, such as government motions, court orders and transcripts of proceedings is critical.

Truthout filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request last year with the Department of the Army to gain access to the court documents in Manning’s case. Last September, we received a response stating that “it has been recommended by our Legal Office to withhold any information pertaining to this case.”