Army Pfc. Bradley Manning. (Reuters / Jose Liis Magaua)
Bradley Manning is expected to testify in a pretrial hearing that he has been punished illegally by being locked in solitary confinement. The whistleblower hopes that his inhumane punishment is grounds for having all charges against him dismissed.
Manning, who is accused of sending classified information to WikiLeaks, will testify in a pretrial hearing in Fort Meade, Maryland.
“Until now we’ve only heard from Bradley through his family and lawyers, so it’s going to be a real insight into his personality to hear him speak for himself for the first time,” said Jeff Paterson of the Bradley Manning Support Network.
Manning’s lawyers will maintain that his treatment in a small cell at the Marine Corps brig in Quantico, Virginia was illegal and unnecessarily severe. If pretrial punishment is particularly flagrant, military judges have the right to dismiss all charges.
Manning, a 24-year-old Army private and intelligence analyst, was allegedly involved in the largest security breach in US history and was charged with 22 crimes, including violating the Espionage Act and aiding the enemy. He allegedly accessed 250,000 US diplomatic cables, 500,000 army reports, and videos of the 2007 Baghdad airstrike and the 2009 Granai airstrike, and sending them to the whistleblower website WikiLeaks for publication in 2010. He is the only suspect arrested for his involvement in the security leak.
But while awaiting trial in Quantico from July 2010 to April 2011, he was allegedly mistreated, sparking human rights concerns from Amnesty International, the United Nations and the British government. The UN referred to his treatment as cruel, inhuman and degrading. Leading law scholars and PJ Crowley, former spokesman at the US Department of State, have resigned from their positions in protest of Manning’s treatment.
Manning’s lawyers claim he was held in maximum security in a cell so small that it was “the functional equivalent of solitary confinement.” He spent 23 ½ hours confined to his 6-by-8-foot cell with no windows or natural light and was often forced to sleep naked. He was also denied a regular blanket and pillow.
Manning was also woken at 5 a.m. every morning and forced to stay awake until 10 p.m., making it difficult for him to pass the time in his closet-like cell. Prison guards checked on him every five minutes and refused to let him lie on his bed, lean against the cell wall or exercise.
Military officials have called the punishment suitable, claiming Manning posed a risk of injury to himself and others and was therefore required to remain locked up as a maximum-security detainee. But records show that psychiatrists made at least 16 official reports to military commanders that Manning was not a threat to himself or others and should therefore not have been subjected to such severe treatment.
While a dismissal of all charges due to pretrial punishment is very rare in a military court, Manning’s lawyers hope that these “egregious” and illegal conditions amount to severe enough punishment to justify dropping the case.
According to lawyer David Coombs, these conditions are a “flagrant violation of Pfc. Manning’s constitutional right to not be punished prior to trial.”
If the military judge refuses to drop the charge but still considers pretrial punishment as time served, then Manning could receive a lesser prison sentence, former Marine Corps attorney Dwight H. Sullivan told the Baltimore Sun. He is currently seeking a “10-to-1” credit, which means he would receive a credit of 10 days served for every actual day spent in pretrial confinement.
If Manning’s lawyers fail to sway the judges, the 24-year-old may face life imprisonment if he is convicted of aiding the enemy, the most serious of his 22 charges.Earlier Manning has also offered to plead guilty to reduced charges for a lesser sentence.
After being released from Quantico due to the prison closing down, Manning was moved to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where he was allowed to interact with other inmates and kept in less strict conditions. But his lawyers still hope that his nine-month stay and cruel treatment at Quantico will lead to Manning’s freedom.
The pretrial hearing is scheduled to last until Sunday and precedes the full court martial scheduled for Feb. 4, 2013.