Psychiatrists recommended easing of Manning custody, official testifies

The former commander of the Marine Corps base at Quantico, Va., told a military court on Tuesday that accused WikiLeaker Bradley Manning was held in highly restrictive "prevention-of-injury" custody even though psychiatrists recommended the conditions be eased.

Retired Marine Col. Daniel J. Choike told the court at Fort Meade that he agreed with the staff of the brig at Quantico that Manning should be kept on prevention-of-injury status based on his history, the seriousness of the charges against him and what he called his "erratic behavior."

Manning, 24, is accused of leaking hundreds of thousands of classified documents to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks. He faces a court-martial next year on charges that include violating the Espionage Act and aiding the enemy. If convicted, he could be sentenced to life in prison.

His lawyers are seeking to have all the charges dismissed. They say the "egregious" conditions at Quantico, where Manning was held from July 2010 through April 2011, amounted to pretrial punishment, in violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the U.S. Constitution.

If the charges are not dismissed, they are asking for credit against any sentence he receives.

Manning, who lived in Potomac and studied at Montgomery College before he joined the Army in 2007, watched silently as attorney David Coombs asked Choike about the decisions behind his confinement at Quantico.

For the first five months at Quantico, Manning's lawyers say, he was held in a 6-by-8-foot cell without a window or natural light for more than 231/2 hours per day.

From 5 a.m. to 10 p.m., his lawyers say, he was not permitted to lie on his bed or lean against the cell wall. Guards were required to check on his well-being every five minutes, day and night. If they could not see him — if he was asleep under his blanket or turned to the wall — they would wake him.

He was issued a coarse, tear-proof "suicide blanket," which his lawyers say gave him rashes and carpet burns. After he told a brig official that if he wanted to harm himself, he could use the waistband of his underwear, his lawyers say, he was forced to surrender all clothing at night and sleep naked.

Choike said it was the responsibility of brig staff to determine the conditions of Manning's confinement, but he could have overruled their decisions. Brig staff did not testify on Tuesday.

Choike said Manning met several of the criteria for prevention-of-injury status, including serious charges, strained family relations and what he called "erratic behavior" — dancing in his cell, playing peek-a-boo and licking the bars.

Coombs asked Choike if it was possible that Manning was attempting to relieve his boredom. He suggested that Manning had been sleepwalking when he licked the bars, had been on medication that might have caused him to sleepwalk, and was startled when he was awakened by guards.

Coombs asked Choike if he was aware of weekly reports stating that Manning had not had disciplinary problems, was polite, respectful and courteous to brig staff, and that mental health professionals were recommending he be taken off prevention-of-injury status.

Choike said he was aware of the reports. He said he was also aware of reports that Manning was depressed and withdrawn.

Manning, who served as an intelligence analyst in Iraq in 2009 and 2010, is accused of sending raw field reports from Iraq and Afghanistan, diplomatic cables from U.S. embassies around the world and a video of a U.S. helicopter attack in Baghdad to be published by WikiLeaks.

Some antiwar activists say he is a hero who should be protected from prosecution as a whistle-blower. Supporters gathered outside Fort Meade to hold signs and banners; some attended the hearing.

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