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'Sarcastic Quip' May Have Triggered Stripping of WikiLeaks Suspect

by Josh Gerstein

A 'sarcastic quip' that a U.S. Army private made about his predicament at a Marine Corps brig may have led to orders that he strip naked each night, the soldier's attorney said Saturday.

Beginning on Wednesday night, Pfc. Bradley Manning, who's facing preliminary charges related to massive leaks of classified information to the online publisher WikiLeaks, was forced by authorities at the Marine Corps Brig in Quantico, Va. to sleep naked in his cell and remain naked through a jail roll call in the morning.

The unusual treatment of Manning was first reported by his attorney, David Coombs, on Thursday and later confirmed by a Marine spokesman. However, neither provided details on how the order to strip arose.

However, in a blog post Saturday afternoon, Coombs indicated that the order followed his client made as part of ongoing complaints about being held in near-isolation under what usually amounts to a 23-hour-a-day lockdown in his cell.

In response to one such complaint on Wednesday, Manning "was told that there was nothing he could do to downgrade his detainee status and that the Brig simply considered him a risk of self-harm. PFC Manning then remarked that the [Prevention of Injury] restrictions were 'absurd' and sarcastically stated that if he wanted to harm himself, he could conceivably do so with the elastic waistband of his underwear or with his flip-flops."

Manning's allegedly sarcastic comment about using his underwear or slippers to hurt himself was apparently taken seriously by jailers, who then ordered him to spend seven hours each night without his underwear or any other garments.

Coombs called Manning's treatment "clearly punitive in nature." He also indicated that there is some disagreement between brig commanders and psychiatrists there, with the medical professionals apparently taking some of Manning's comments and behavior as less threatening than the jailers do.

"PFC Manning is permitted to have his underwear and clothing during the day, with no apparent concern that he will harm himself during this time period. Moreover, if Brig officials were genuinely concerned about PFC Manning using either his underwear or flip-flops to harm himself (despite the recommendation of the Brig's psychiatrist) they could undoubtedly provide him with clothing that would not, in their view, present a risk of self-harm," Coombs wrote. "The Brig's treatment of PFC Manning is shameful."

A Quantico spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment late Saturday.

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