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Psychiatrist Captain William Hoctor. (Courtroom sketch by Clark Stoeckley.)

Quantico Psychiatrist: Military's Mistreatment of Pfc. Manning 'Unprecedented'

Bradley Manning was held in solitary confinement despite expert's claim he was no longer a suicide risk

Common Dreams staff

The government psychiatrist charged with evaluating Pfc. Bradley Manning during his early detention at the military brig at Quantico told the judge at a pre-trial hearing on Wednesday that his recommendations for the Manning's treatment were repeatedly ignored by the Marine guard unit responsible for him.

Captain William Hoctor, a military forensic psychiatrist with 24 years of experience, testified that he'd never had his advice so studiously ignored by his colleagues and that inmates he performed similar duties for at the Guantanamo detention facility for foreign terror suspects were treated better and with more urgency than Pfc. Manning.

"I had been a senior medical officer for 24 years at the time, and I had never experienced anything like this. It was clear to me they had made up their mind on a certain cause of action, and my recommendations had no impact," Hoctor said.

Manning is standing trial for passing on US diplomatic cables and military documents to the whistleblowing and media site Wikileaks. Among those leaked items was video footage of an army helicopter attack on civilians in Iraq that came to be known as Collateral Murder.

Though Manning has already been held in US military detention for over two years without a completed trial, his lawyers are trying to have the charges thrown out on the grounds that Manning's ill-treatment during the earliest parts of his incarceration at Quantico was "unlawful" and that throughout he has been denied due process and a speedy trial.

Hoctor said that repeated attempts to get Manning taken off "prevention of injury" status, or Pol, were rebuffed by commanding officers. These restrictions, as The Guardian reports, included: "no contact with other people, being kept in his cell for more than 23 hours a day, being checked every five minutes, sleeping on a suicide mattress with no bedding, having his prescription glasses taken away, lights kept on at night, having toilet paper removed."

The doctor said that refusals to have his recommendations were unprecedented. As The Guardian reports:

"Even when I did tours in Guantanamo and cared for detainees there my recommendations on suicidal behavior were followed."

Hoctor said he openly protested about the thwarting of his expert opinion at a meeting with the commander responsible for the brig, Colonel Robert Oltman, on 13 January 2011. At the meeting Oltman informed the doctor that Manning would be kept on PoI "for the forseeable future".

Hoctor said that the marine commanders should no longer pretend they were acting out of medical concern for the detainee. "It wasn't good for Manning. I really didn't like them using a psychiatric standard when I thought it clinically inappropriate," Hoctor said.

The court heard that Oltman replied: "You make your recommendations, and we'll do what we want to do."

Earlier the court martial heard from Oltman himself, who told the judge presiding over the proceedings, Colonel Denise Lind, that he had chosen to overlook Hoctor's advice because he didn't fully trust the doctor. A few months before Manning arrived at Quantico, an inmate of the brig, Captain Michael Webb, had killed himself while under Hoctor's care.

"I did not have the utmost confidence in Captain Hoctor," Oltman testified.

When that lack of trust was put to Hoctor by Manning's defence lawyer, David Coombs, the psychiatrist replied: "If they felt that way they should have got another person to do the job."

Despite the unprecedented conditions that Manning was held under, Hoctor said the detainee coped quite well. "Most people would have found it very difficult, being watched every five minutes, but he did better than expected – I think he decided he was going to be strong."

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