Marine official: Manning held improperly in brig

FORT MEADE, Md. (AP) — An Army private charged with sending reams of classified documents to the secret-spilling website WikiLeaks was wrongly kept on suicide watch for at least seven days of his nine months’ confinement at a Marine Corps brig in Quantico, Va., the Marines’ chief of corrections testified Wednesday.

Chief Warrant Officer 5 Abel Galaviz also said Pfc. Bradley Manning shouldn’t have been stripped of all clothing during a period when he wasn’t on suicide watch. And he said a board that made confinement recommendations to the brig commander used improper procedures that called into question the panel’s objectivity.

Galaviz’s testimony on the seventh day of a pretrial hearing was the strongest evidence the defense has produced to counter the government’s claim that brig officials justifiably believed the strict conditions were needed to keep Manning from hurting or killing himself. The hearing is to determine whether those conditions, including confinement in an 8-by-6-foot cell at least 23 hours a day, amounted to illegal pretrial punishment, possibly warranting dismissal of the case.

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 risk” or the less-restrictive “prevention of injury” status, both involving additional security measures. Brig commanders, advised by a three-member Classification and Assignment Board, rejected psychiatrists’ nearly weekly recommendations to ease Manning’s restrictions, according to testimony and brig records.

Galaviz was sent to Quantico in February 2011 to review the situation after the United Nations’ torture investigator began asking about Manning’s treatment.

Galaviz testified Wednesday that brig commander Chief Warrant Officer James Averhart violated a military corrections policy by failing to immediately take Manning off suicide watch following an Aug. 6, 2010, mental health evaluation that concluded he was at no risk of killing himself. Instead, Averhart kept Manning on suicide watch until Aug. 11, Galaviz said. Manning had been on suicide watch since arriving at the brig July 29.

Averhart put Manning back on suicide watch Jan. 18, 2011, after the soldier suffered what his lawyer characterized as an anxiety attack that included hitting himself in the head. A psychiatrist recommended the same day that the restrictions be eased, but Averhart didn’t remove Manning from suicide watch until Jan. 20 or 21, Galaviz said.

“I felt that although he was removed, it could have been done in a more timely manner than it was,” Galaviz said under cross-examination by defense attorney David Coombs.

On July 2, 2011, Averhart’s successor, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Denise Barnes ordered Manning to surrender his underwear after he told a guard that if he really wanted to kill himself he could use the elastic waistband of his undershorts. He was forced to sleep naked for several nights until he was issued a suicide-proof smock that became his nighttime attire until he left Quantico.

Galaviz said Barnes had the authority to deprive Manning of his clothes but she should also have placed him on suicide risk since that was the reason for the order.

“When you take that action on somebody to remove his clothing, you have at that point, as far as I’m concerned, gone into the suicide-risk status,” he said.

Galaviz also testified that the Classification and Assignment Board used a non-standard form to convey its recommendations to the brig commander. He said the board’s senior officer may have prejudiced the proceedings by filling out the form before the board met. And he said the officer, a brig counselor, shouldn’t have been a board member at all since his higher rank could have influenced the others’ recommendations.

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.