FORT MEADE (USA), Dec 12: In his final plea to have charges dropped against WikiLeaks suspect Bradley Manning, a defence lawyer on Tuesday compared his harsh detention conditions to those of a “zoo animal”.
Manning’s solitary confinement — under 24-hour watch, forced to sleep naked in a tiny cell for all but 20 minutes a day — was “a clear violation” of the US code of military justice, defence lawyer David Coombs said.
“There was this eight-by-six (foot) cell, that was PFC (Private First Class) Manning’s life,” Coombs said, as both the defence and the prosecution wrapped up arguments to close off a dramatic phase of pre-trial hearings. “Every moment of your life is going to be subjected to being watched… watched or viewed almost as a zoo animal,” Coombs said.
The 24-year-old private faces a slew of charges, including “aiding the enemy,” for allegedly leaking hundreds of thousands of sensitive US military and diplomatic documents to Julian Assange’s anti-secrecy site WikiLeaks. He was arrested in May 2010 while serving as an intelligence analyst near Baghdad and subsequently charged over the largest leak of restricted documents in history.
Manning was sent briefly to a US jail in neighbouring Kuwait, before being transferred to Marine Corps brig in Quantico, Virginia in July 2010.
After nine months in the brig, he was moved in April 2011 to a US Army prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where he was allowed to interact with other detainees as detention conditions were relaxed.
During pre-trial hearings at Forte Meade in Maryland, the defence has focused on getting the charges dropped on the basis that Manning’s detention conditions at Quantico were unfairly harsh.
“It was arbitrary, month after month,” Coombs said. “If the conditions are not necessary that could give rise to illegal punishment,” which would justify dropping all the charges, he said.
The court has heard from the full hierarchy of figures involved in Manning’s incarceration — from the prison chief to the guards that kept watch over his cell.
The suspect took the stand himself, admitting he had broken down early on his detention and contemplated suicide but adding that he had recovered only for his pleas for better conditions to fall upon deaf ears.
“I had no socks, no underwear, I had no articles of clothing, I had no glasses,” testified Manning, who also complained bitterly about the uncomfortable suicide-prevention smock he was made to wear.
During about five hours of testimony, Manning showed flashes of humour as he calmly recounted the severe restrictions and monotony he faced during his pre-trial confinement in both Kuwait and Quantico.
The boyish-looking soldier recounted how he was forced to stand at attention naked in his cell and encountered angry responses when he questioned his detention regime.—AFP