The Trials of Bradley Manning

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On July 25th, 2010, two months after he was arrested, the extent of Manning's ambitions to expose the dark side of American wartime conduct became apparent when WikiLeaks published the "Afghan War Diary." Manning described the six-year archive of secret military communiqués as "one of the most significant documents of our time, removing the fog of war and revealing the true nature of 21st-century asymmetric warfare." The New York Times broke the story the following day in a front-page article depicting the logs as presenting a bleak portrait of the Afghan war, "in many respects more grim than the official portrayal." Five days later, Manning was removed from his cage at Camp Arifjan and put on a commercial charter bound for the United States. Now the highest-value U.S. military detainee in recent history, he was incarcerated at the Marine Corps brig in Quantico, Virginia, where he would pay for his sins.

For decades, soldiers awaiting court-martial had been detained in Quantico brig, a low-slung brick building situated among the elms on one of the country's most illustrious Marine outposts. The Baltimore Sun once referred to it as "the world's most well-behaved prison." But its resources had been halved by recent downsizing, leaving it unable to adequately support long-term detainees, let alone someone of Manning's stature. There were no permanent mental-health counselors or treatment programs: Those in need of psychiatric care were left to see the base psychiatrist, whose duties spread across a 58,000-acre campus.

Manning's incarceration came in the wake of years of scandal over military-detention policy. Nearly 200 detainees have died in U.S. military custody during the War on Terror, among them, seven alleged "suicides" at Guantánamo Bay and two other mysterious deaths at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan that were later proved to be murders. Though harsh interrogation practices stopped under Obama, curbing suicide – be it of foreign detainees or of U.S. service members – was now one of the military's top priorities.

Making sure that nothing happened to Bradley Manning would become a fixation for Quantico officials, notably Lt. Gen. George J. Flynn, who commanded all operations on the base from his office at the Pentagon. In the spring of 2010, a Navy captain named Michael Webb had killed himself while detained at the brig. Flynn urged his staff to make sure this didn't happen again. "It would be good if you impressed upon all who come in contact with Pvt. Manning the absolute necessity of keeping a close watch on him," he wrote to base officials. "His life has completely fallen apart, which makes him a strong candidate (from my perspective) to take his life."

It was into this hypervigilant environment that Manning arrived on the warm night of July 29th, 2010, exhausted, having traveled nearly 24 hours from Kuwait via Manheim, Germany. Fearing he'd be sent to Guantánamo, he was initially "elated," he said, to be in the United States, in a "brick-and-mortar building with air conditioning, hard floors and running water." This changed when Manning was taken into a darkened room, where several Marines began a verbal onslaught he called a "shark attack."

"Face the bulkhead!" Manning had no idea what a bulkhead was. Marine terms were different from Army terms, as was also true with rank. A private first class, Manning was now a lance corporal to the Marines. To not know these distinctions was cause for "correction," which meant more attacks. After this harsh indoctrination, Manning could barely think. "Basically, everything I did was wrong," he said.

One of the questions Manning was asked was whether he wanted to commit suicide. It was a fair question: Manning had been put on suicide watch in Kuwait, after making two nooses in his cell. But after talking to a psychiatrist, who put him on anti-anxiety medication, he'd stabilized. Now he felt fine, he told the guards, who didn't seem to believe him. They pressed him about what happened in Kuwait again and again: If you're fine, then why were you on suicide watch?

Finally, after repeatedly trying to answer the questions to their satisfaction, Manning picked up a pen and, with the Marines standing over him demanding he answer conclusively whether he was suicidal, wrote the phrase: "Always planning, never acting." It was sarcastic, he later explained, and maybe a little clueless. It would also define his fate.

The military does not use the term solitary confinement, preferring "administrative segregation" to describe the form of isolation that Manning, because he was deemed a suicide risk, endured. At Quantico, he was installed in a six-by-eight cell with no window or natural light and spent no less than 23 hours per day in an area the size of an exceedingly small closet. Although regulations state that any discipline administered must be "on a corrective rather than a punitive basis," he spent his waking hours, from 5 a.m. until 10 p.m., forced to sit on the edge of his bed, back straight, in what, after many hours, could be seen as a stress position. He was not allowed to lie down or lean his back against the wall. His glasses, without which he couldn't see, were taken away, leaving him to spend the first few days in a fuzzy oblivion. The brig ultimately returned his glasses, but they were his only accessory: Manning was not allowed toiletries or any other possessions; even pen and paper were only given to him one hour per day to write letters. Though he could read, he was allowed only one book or magazine at a time – but never a newspaper – and if he put the book down to rest his eyes, or was spotted not "actively reading," it was taken away.

There were several guards charged with what they called "Manning Watch" and whose instructions were to check on Manning every five minutes, 24 hours a day. Constant observation and frequent interruption were well-worn tactics widely used on detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as at Guantánamo. "It's sleep deprivation, basically," says Brandon Neely, a former Army MP who was posted at Guantánamo. It was also broadly acknowledged, and condemned, by human rights monitors, as a form of punishment.

At Quantico, these abuses were considered part of "suicide prevention." To ensure he didn't harm himself, Manning had neither sheets, nor a pillow, and had to relinquish his clothes at night. He was required to sleep on his back, with his head facing the observation booth, directly in the path of a florescent light – if he rolled over, or tried to sleep on his side, a guard would correct him. His arms had to remain above the tear-proof "suicide blanket" he was given, which felt like sandpaper. If his arms inadvertently crept under his blanket when he was asleep, the guards would wake him. Once, trying to untangle himself, he got stuck in the oversize-yet-unwieldy suicide smock and needed assistance to get out of it.

For the first five months of his confinement at Quantico, Manning was allowed just 20 minutes a day of "sunshine call," during which he was taken from his cell in full restraints and led either to an exercise yard or a small rec room. There, held up by guards to prevent Manning, who weighs just 105 pounds, from toppling over, he'd walk, very slowly, in a figure-eight pattern. When he was done, he'd be returned to his cell to sit in isolation, for there were never any inmates housed nearby – ostensibly out of concern, one brig official later testified, for other detainees' sense of patriotism.

Soon after arriving at Quantico, Manning began meeting with Dr. William Hocter, the base psychiatrist, who recommended he be taken off suicide watch after a week. Navy regulations specifically state that once a psychiatrist deems a prisoner to no longer be at risk, he or she shall be removed from suicide watch. At Quantico, however, the officer in charge of the brig, Chief Warrant Officer James Averhart, chose to ignore this directive, later explaining that, in his view, the word "shall" did not mean "right now," but rather "when I'm satisfied." Averhart waited nearly a week to abide by Hocter's recommendation. That August, he took Manning off suicide watch and placed him in "prevention of injury" watch, a status that may be arbitrarily imposed by brig officials without a psychiatrist's agreement. Despite his psychiatrist's continued recommendation that he be taken off, Manning remained on POI for the next nine months.

Manning's downgrading to a POI – or suicide-risk-lite status – gave him a few more privileges. Now, instead of a suicide smock, he had shorts, a T-shirt and flip-flops to wear during the day (though he still had to relinquish all but his underwear at night). Otherwise, his treatment was much the same: Meals were in his cell, on a plastic tray, with a metal spoon. Exercise in his cell, even sit-ups or push-ups, was forbidden, in the fear that he would injure himself. When he showered, a guard stood outside "with a line of sight on me," he said. When using the toilet, in full view of the guards, he had to request his toilet paper in formal Marine fashion: "Lance Corporal Bradley Manning requests toilet paper!"

Hocter was appalled. In his 20-year career treating patients at military and civilian prisons, including Guantánamo, the Navy captain had never seen any detainee held with such unremitting security as Manning, nor had his recommendations ever been so consistently disregarded. "It wasn't good for Manning, and it just wasn't clinically appropriate," he testified. "If they had a specific reason [why] he had to be watched that closely, it wasn't known to me, and it wasn't psychiatric."

Hocter sought a second opinion in Dr. Ricky Malone, a prominent forensic psychiatrist from Walter Reed, who concurred with his conclusions. "I didn't think Manning needed suicide precautions…. . . . I saw no reason for safety precautions," he later said. In fact, he added, "If I was treating him in my clinic, I'd only be seeing him one or two times a month." Brig officials thanked the psychiatrists for their "input" and did no more.

If Manning had been a tough fit for the Army, the Marines regarded him as if he were from another planet. Half the size of most MPs, with thick, military-issue glasses that almost swallowed his face, he was an utterly unfathomable nerd who pored over Scientific American and kept a stack of books in an adjacent cell, among them George W. Bush's memoir, Decision Points, Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States, Carl von Clausewitz's On War and two works by Emmanuel Kant. He rarely spoke, but when he did, he launched into soliloquies about evolution and man's use of the brain. He made faces in the mirror. He plucked his eyebrows with his glasses. He played peekaboo. Sometimes, he'd wage what looked like imaginary sword fights with imaginary characters or lift imaginary weights. Sitting on his bed, cross-legged, he'd contort his legs into what the guards seemed to think were uncomfortable, even dangerous, positions that were actually yoga poses. At other times, he danced around his cell as if he were at a rave. Once, to the guards' horror, he even licked the bars of his cell door.

"Dancing is not technically exercise as far as they were concerned," Manning said in court. "Since it wasn't unauthorized, I figured I could do it." His imaginary weight lifting was, he explained, resistance training. Sword fighting was an escape. "I tried to do anything to stay awake," he said. Making faces in the mirror was a regular part of his day. "It was sheer, complete, out-of-my-mind boredom. The most entertaining thing in there was the mirror," he said. "At least you can interact with yourself."

But the MPs, notably Manning's official minder, Master Sgt. Craig Blenis, didn't get that. Manning was too quiet – a sign to Blenis that he might be plotting something. Then there was the issue of his gender. Blenis had intercepted a letter Manning had written in which he'd signed his name "Breanna Elizabeth." That, in Blenis' view, was clearly "not normal."

Stuck in this Kafka-esque labyrinth of psychiatrists who said Manning wasn't suicidal, MPs who insisted he was, and commanders whose only interest, as one senior base official, Col. Robert Oltman, admitted during a heated argument with Hocter, was that Manning not die "on my watch," Manning appealed directly to the classification-and-assessment board to reconsider his status. He was given a hearing, during which Manning's intake statement, "always planning, never acting," was the focal point. Manning tried to explain that he'd felt pressured by the Marines who were standing over him at the time.

"So you just lied?" The guards were incredulous. Manning stammered that he didn't know if it was a false statement. "I was told to put something down, and I put something down without thinking about it."

"If we can't trust you [were] telling the truth at that time, how can we trust that you are telling the truth now?" one Marine said. "How can we believe what you say, ever?"

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