What the New York Times Missed in Its 1st Article on Manning's Torture Hearing

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Jesselyn Radack

What the New York Times Missed in Its 1st Article on Manning's Torture Hearing

[Saturday], the New York Times has its first independently-reported article on Pfc. Bradley Manning's almost cinematic torture hearing.

On the ninth day of Manning's torture hearing--one of the most important legal proceedings of the past decade--I was heartened to see that the New York Times finally showed up to cover the case. (Full disclosure: I know Times reporters Scott Shane and Charlie Savage, whom I think have done an excellent job reporting on some of Obama's most controversial counterterrorism policies and actions.) But my encouragement was dashed when--despite a mea culpa from the Times public editor that someone should have been covering this important hearing--Shane left after 4 hours (Savage was not at the hearing at all). His missed one of the most searing cross-examinations yet of a key witness, Quantico Brig Officer in Charge Denise Barnes, who--against military regulations--confiscated Manning's underwear and deprived him of it every night until his departure.

Forced nudity is only one of the many forms of torture Manning endured during his pre-trial, 9-months-long solitary confinement at Quantico. (You can read about the other techniques here.) However, it was certainly the most humiliating.

After Barnes' direct testimony, I heard Shane remark that "she seemed pretty credible." If he had attended the prior 8 days of the hearing, or had stuck around another 6 hours, he would have seen that "credibility" shattered.

In her direct testimony, Barnes contradicted the testimony of multiple other prosecution witnesses on a number of key issues. One of the most glaring contradictions is that she testified that Manning, whose underwear was being confiscated at night, had been given his clothes back every morning, but for some reason decided to stand for morning count naked. (Everyone else testified that his clothes had not been returned to him that morning, but that he should have "known" to cover himself with his blanket. Manning testifies that he did cover himself with a blanket, but dropped it after being told he was not properly standing at parade rest. But until yesterday, there had been no disagreement that Manning's clothes, for whatever reason, had not been returned to him that particular morning.)

Barnes elaborated later on that she thought Manning stood for count naked on purpose, to be provocative, despite his record of consistent good conduct throughout his chilling stay at Quantico. If Shane had bothered to stay for the next 6 hours, he would have seen a haughty low-rank Chief Warrant Officer with a chip on her shoulder (she was the most junior person to ever run a brig; if anything bad happened to Manning, it would ruin her career; etc.), who flouted prison regulations in favor of her own "personal opinion."

Despite months of opinions from 4 different psychologists and 1 general physician that Manning was mentally stable and posed no threat of harm to himself or others--and that prolonged solitary confinement was actually injurious to Manning--he remained on "Prevention-of-Injury"I (POI) status until the day he left Quantico (at which time he was put, without incident, into Leavenworth's general population, where he has thrived.)

In some of the most explosive revelations, Coombs' masterful and methodical cross-examination revealed:

  1. confiscating prisoner clothing is only allowed when someone is on "Suicide Risk" (SR);
  2. even though Manning's underwear was confiscated because guards supposedly believed he could use it to kill himself, he was not put on SR;
  3. if he had been put on SR status, a doctor would have seen him immediately, would have found he had no suicidal ideation (this was testified to last week), would have given him back his underwear, and he would have been returned to a lower custody status;
  4. her "personal interpretation" of the rules justified keeping him on POI status without his underwear, which resulted in his standing naked for count;
  5. A PSL Lt. Col., Michael Wright--a proponent of instruction SECNAV 1640.9C (the governing regulation) and far senior t0 her--told her she was not allowed to remove underwear unless someone was in SR.
  6. Her response was not to return Manning's underwear, but keep stripping him of it every night, because "I only had to answer to Altman and Choike" (her immediate chain of command).

Barnes most telling comment came at the end of her testimony:

If I see no positive change [which she defined as Manning talking to her more conversationally, making eye contact, and "explaining himself"], he's still gonna have his underwear removed.

She wasn't concerned that he'd use the underwear to commit suicide. She was concerned with punishing him.

Barnes and her predecessor, Brig Commander James Averhart, both put their personal opinions above the sound medical evaluations of multiple mental health professionals, military regulations, and Manning's well-being, to use pre-trial detention to punish Manning, who Averhart said plucked his eyebrows and was not like the other "patriotic" prisoners. They were concerned not with Manning's health, care, protection, and dignity, but with (as they both testified) what the media might think. After 9 days of testimony (and the torture hearing is still not over), one thing is absolutely clear: Bradley Manning was never going to get off solitary confinement while he was at the gulag known as Quantico.

P.S. The New York Times also got it wrong when it states:

Private Manning offered last month to plead guilty to lesser charges that could send him to prison for 16 years. Prosecutors have not said whether they are interested in such a deal.

Really, the defense submitted a "plea notice" This is not a plea bargain with the government. Rather, it's up to the judge to decide whether to accept the plea notice. Contrary to the Times artice, the prosecution HAS stated it will not support the "conditional plea." But, as I said, it's irrelevant whether the government is interested. Additionally, Manning isn't seeking relief for any torture committed in the Kuwait animal cages, which the Times suggested.

Jesselyn Radack

Jesselyn Radack is National Security & Human Rights Director for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.

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