Pfc. Bradley Manning was finally allowed to speak publicly, in his own defense, in a preliminary hearing of his court-martial. Manning is the alleged source of the largest intelligence leak in U.S. history. He was an intelligence analyst in the U.S. Army, with top-secret clearance, deployed in Iraq. In April 2010, the whistle-blower website WikiLeaks released a U.S. military video of an Apache helicopter in Baghdad killing a dozen civilians below, including two Reuters employees, a videographer and his driver. One month after the video was released, Manning was arrested in Iraq, charged with leaking the video and hundreds of thousands more documents. Thus began his ordeal of cruel, degrading imprisonment in solitary confinement that many claim was torture, from his detention in Kuwait to months in the military brig in Quantico, Va. Facing global condemnation, the U.S. military transferred Manning to less-abusive detention at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.
As he now faces 22 counts in a court martial that could land him in prison for the rest of his life, his lawyer argued in court that the case should be thrown out, based on his unlawful pretrial punishment.
Veteran constitutional attorney Michael Ratner was in the courtroom at Fort Meade, Md., that day Manning took the stand. He described the scene: “It was one of the most dramatic courtroom scenes I’ve ever been in. ... When Bradley opened his mouth, he was not nervous. The testimony was incredibly moving, an emotional roller coaster for all of us, but particularly, obviously, for Bradley and what he went through. But it was so horrible what happened to him over a two-year period. He described it in great detail in a way that was articulate, smart, self-aware.”
Ratner said Manning described being kept in a cage in Kuwait: “There were two cages. He said they were like animal cages. They were in a tent alone, just these two cages, side by side. One of them had whatever possessions he may have had; one of them, he was in, with a little bed for a rack and a toilet, dark, in this cage for almost two months.” Ratner quoted Manning from his testimony, recalling his words: “For me, I stopped keeping track. I didn’t know whether night was day or day was night. And my world became very, very small. It became these cages.” Ratner added, “It almost destroyed him.”
After Kuwait, Manning was shipped to a brig in Quantico. Manning’s civilian defense attorney, David Coombs, said earlier this month: “Brad’s treatment at Quantico will forever be etched, I believe, in our nation’s history, as a disgraceful moment in time. Not only was it stupid and counterproductive. It was criminal.” The United Nations special rapporteur on torture, Juan Mendez, attempted to visit Manning, but then refused when the military said it could surveil and record the visit. He reported: “Solitary confinement is a harsh measure which may cause serious psychological and physiological adverse effects on individuals regardless of their specific conditions."
Manning’s cruel treatment was described by officials as necessary, as he was a suicide risk. Yet Navy Capt. William Hocter, a forensic psychiatrist at Quantico, said he was no such risk, but was ignored. “I had been a senior medical officer for 24 years at the time, and I had never experienced anything like this,” Hocter testified. “It was clear to me they had made up their mind on a certain cause of action, and my recommendations had no impact.”
This first phase of the court-martial, which Coombs calls “the unlawful pretrial punishment motion phase,” considered a defense motion to throw out the entire case. While that is unlikely, observers say, the defense asked, as an alternative, that the court consider crediting Manning with 10 days’ reduction from any eventual sentence for each day he spent suffering cruel and degrading punishment in Kuwait and Quantico, which could in theory trim six years from his prison time.
Bradley Manning is charged with releasing the WikiLeaks trove of documents, which included the Baghdad massacre video, two separate, massive tranches of documents relating to U.S. military records from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and, perhaps most importantly, the huge release of more than 250,000 U.S. State Department cables, dubbed “Cablegate.” In an August 2010 assessment, then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said the document release “has not revealed any sensitive intelligence sources and methods compromised by the disclosure.” Manning has offered to plead guilty to releasing the documents, but not to the more serious charges of espionage or aiding the enemy.
Manning turns 25, in prison, Dec. 17, which is also the second anniversary of the day a young Tunisian set himself on fire in protest of his country’s corrupt government, sparking the Arab Spring. A year ago, as Time magazine named the protester as the “Person of the Year,” legendary Pentagon Papers whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg offered praise that rings true today: “The Time magazine cover gives protester, an anonymous protester, as ‘Person of the Year,’ but it is possible to put a face and a name to that picture of ‘Person of the Year.’ And the American face I would put on that is Private Bradley Manning.”
Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.