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Extraordinary Confinement

by MIKE McKEE

In the summer of 2009, when the military brig at Quantico transitioned from a “Level One” facility to a 30-day pre-trial facility, few would have pegged it as the first choice of locations to house the man accused of one of the most significant leaks of classified government documents in United States history. And yet, that’s precisely where PFC Bradley Manning wound up after a late-night, unexplained transfer from his crude cell in Kuwait’s Camp Arifjan.

Throughout this week, military officers of various levels and brig staff presented exhaustive testimony about the inconsistent and poorly documented care PFC Manning was afforded given the facility’s infrastructure. While discussion of Quantico’s resources and expertise may pale in comparison to some of the treatment Manning endured during his nine-month stay, much of defense attorney David Coombs’ arguments this week concentrated on how his client’s mere placement at the Northern Virginia brig set the stage for disaster.

Manning’s imminent arrival at Quantico in late July 2010 prompted discussions between former Security Battalion Commander Robert G. Oltman and Gen. Flynn, in which Oltman articulated how inadequate the detention center was for the task. “It had been a while since we’d been inspected,” he told the court earlier this week, describing an overdue need to identify shortcomings and ensure Quantico was in regulation. Manning constituted a “drain of resources” for the brig, testified Oltman, who noted, “we don’t have the long-term resources for prisoners.”

In the course of the transition, Quantico’s inmate population dropped significantly, with prisoners being “turned away” due to capacity. Staff at the brig, meanwhile, shrunk from 79 to 44. When protests began flaring up outside the base in January of 2011, heightened security measures made for added duties and stress to brig staff—a situation some say may have translated into rough treatment for Manning.

According to Oltman, Quantico was not fully equipped for pre-trial staples, even including some amenities PFC Manning would have gladly done without, such as audio recording devices in the visitation area.

Even forgiving minor details, such as military code that varyingly discourages or outright bans, pre-trial confinement beyond one year, Quantico also suffered from scant resources where extended confinement is concerned. During a cross examination with Prosecutor Ashden Fein, the former Security Battalion Commander inventoried basics the brig had in place, such as hot meals, routine medical care, and limited exercise areas, describing a facility capable of meeting its core function but unprepared for the challenging job of long-term incarceration. One brig psychiatrist, Captain William Hoctor, had made do since 2009 without a computer, using phones that worked only by holding exposed copper wires together by hand for a dial tone and live line.

If Hoctor’s office conditions sound scant, his working relationship with higher brig staff and command weren’t much better, according to this week’s testimony. Staff Sergeant Ryan Jordan described Hoctor’s visits to the brig as a “whirlwind”—a sentiment echoed by Gunnery Sergeant Craig Blenis later that same day. According to brig Officers-in-Charge (OICs), Hoctor’s recommendation notes (which strongly pressed that Manning be removed from Prevention of Injury status) lacked what they considered sufficient elaboration. Meanwhile, both Blenis and Jordan recounted incidents where Brig Commander James Averhart shared his distrust in Hoctor’s job performance. Neither of the prosecution’s two witnesses, however, were able to explain why Hoctor—who reads as noticeably professional and compassionate on the stand—was never provided critical feedback nor relieved of his duties.

While Dr. Hoctor may not have scored particular favor from Quantico bigwigs, Brig Commander Colonel Daniel Choike’s sense of professionalism seems more liberal, given this week’s testimony, wherein emails between him and brig OICs exchanged jokes about stripping Manning of his “panties” and rejecting his mail because “we felt like dicks.”

So, it seems Quantico was a curious choice to house a high-profile detainee that military top brass was already aware would attract intense public, political, and media scrutiny. The decision is even more baffling considering some of the correspondence between Col. Choike and Lt. Gen. Flynn, who described Choike’s newest guest as a “young man with a lot on his plate” whose “life has fallen apart,” requiring suicide-watch status. Despite the demanding level of resources this implies, Quantico was getting by on a revolving cast of part-time, visiting mental health care providers. This proved problematic in March 2011 when a simple scheduling issue sent brig officials scrambling in a “full court press” just to secure another of Manning’s regular psychiatrists, Col. Rick Malone. Roughly eight months since Manning’s arrival, Quantico had yet to hire one full-time mental health professional.

Such inadequacies point to Quantico’s main function as a short-term facility better equipped for out-processing inmates bound for discharge or other locations. The severity of Manning’s charges, as well as the complexity of the government’s developing case, quickly suggested an extended, two-year detainment. Housing a detainee beyond 30 days, however, according to Oltman’s testimony, was beyond the brig’s means.

Col. Choike’s assessment that Manning should not be detained at Quantico for more than 90 days, meanwhile, wound up still six months shy of the ultimate duration of Manning’s detainment at the Virginia brig–an amount of time at least two military psychiatrists agreed could be harmful to anyone’s health, given the confinement conditions. Although Choike’s timeline stretched farther than others, even he felt strongly enough about Quantico’s inadequacy to raise this issue with superiors such as Gen. Flynn. Judge Denise Lind herself sought clarification in court this week, asking Oltman about the facility’s capability of accommodating detainees for three months, let alone six or more.

The effect of this pairing amounted to something of a square peg forced into a round hole, leaving Manning confined to a 6×8-foot cell for up to 23 hours a day in conditions garnering international outcry from supporters, as well as human rights advocates ranging from Amnesty International, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Mendez, Archbishop Emeritus and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu, director Michael Moore and “Pentagon Papers” whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg.

Throughout his roughly nine months at Quantico, the already meager dimensions of Manning’s incarceration were exacerbated by the intense administrative restrictions of his Suicide and Prevention-of-Injury statuses, which brig psychiatrists consistently criticized as lacking sound clinical basis.

When Manning was finally transferred to Fort Leavenworth in April 2011, his new brig’s commander Lt. Col. Dawn Hilton testified the move was ordered because her facility could better meet PFC Manning’s requirements. The comparably new Fort Leavenworth brig, in stark contrast to Quantico, was designed with long-term pre-trial confinement in mind.

Manning’s sudden change of circumstance represented a drastic improvement in his quality of confinement due to Leavenworth’s sophisticated level of medical care, permanent, in-house mental health providers, and an extensive, segregated area for pre-trial detainees, featuring 8×10-foot cells designed for 35 square feet of unencumbered living space, as well as windows and natural light.

Coincidently, within two months of Manning’s transfer, directives from Marine headquarters restructured their classification and assignment systems at Quantico to allow for a prevention-of-injury status outside of the taxing maximum custody category.

Mike McKee is a member of the Bradley Manning Support Network.

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