WASHINGTON – Retired Colonel Dan Choike, the former commander of Marine Corps Base Quantico, at which Private Bradley Manning was held, took the stand Tuesday and shed more light on the public relations and mental health concerns surrounding the incarceration of the Army intelligence analyst whose “Cablegate” document provisions to WikiLeaks sparked a global conflagration, culminating in the Arab Spring and the Occupy movement. Senior Quantico Marine officers anticipated ongoing complaints about the private’s treatment, and disregarded repeated advice from base forensic psychiatrists that the private did not need to be on suicide watch. Outright disagreement continued regarding the facts of an incident in which Private Manning alleges he was forced to stand naked. Col. Choike claims that he was offered a suicide smock and a blanket but refused those coverings.
Defense attorney David Coombs asked Col. Choike if he “knew” that Private Manning was asked to “put the blanket [covering him] back” when ordered to stand up. First the colonel replied simply, “no,” before adding to the attorney, “You’re talking hypotheticals.” As this exchange proceeded the private watched with wider, more interested eyes than usual, biting his lips.
Black-and-white factual disagreement also exists as to whether Private Manning was allowed only 20 minutes, as opposed to a full hour, of “sunshine call,” time outside in shackles.
The commander consistently ignored the advice of two psychiatrists, and Captain William Hoctor and Colonel Rick Malone — Capt. Hoctor’s advice particularly because one of his patients had recently killed himself while in the brig only a couple of weeks into his detention.
Presented exhibits included a “standard confinement pillow;” a “suicide mattress;” a green “suicide smock,” a cousin to the straitjacket; and two nooses — one a peach-colored makeshift bedsheet noose, the other constructed from sandbag ties. While defense counsel were quick to chime in that Private Manning had used neither noose, later this week Private Manning would testify to having made the bedsheet noose during his initial detention in Kuwait, a time during which American politicians and media personalities were roundly calling for the prisoner’s execution. Col. Choike cited factors that encouraged him to disregard psychiatrists’ advice that Manning not any longer be required to be put on suicide watch, a condition that would necessitate his wearing a chafing, restrictive smock the private claims gave him rub burns. Col. Choike, now a civilian employed at Stafford, Virginia’s Technology Associates, said the “seriousness” of Private Manning’s charges, “strained family relationships” and “erratic behavior” contributed to the continuing suicide watch. The “erratic behavior,” testified Col Choike, included “playing peek-a-boo,” “erratic dancing” and licking the bars of his cell.
Incredibly defense counsel claimed that the bar-licking might have been due to sleepwalking caused by anti-anxiety agents given to Private Manning. Neither side offered any details on the specific prescription medications given to Private Manning, but Capt. Hoctor said that Private Manning’s medication could cause sleepwalking and allegedly the bar-licking.
Col. Choike said that, instead of Capt. Hoctor and Col. Malone, he deferred to the chain of command and specifically the judgment of a dentist in charge of the Quantico medical clinic.
Both sides agree that Private Manning communicated to a guard that if he really wanted to hurt himself he could do with his waistband or his flip-flops. Col. Choike said that that guard took the statement so seriously that he relayed the concern to Barnes. In Mr. Coombs’ questioning of Col. Choike, he said that Private Manning was merely commenting on the absurdity of his being on suicide watch, a status that denied him more comfortable bedding and underwear to sleep in at night. Col. Choike said that subordinates did not make him aware that Private Manning was smiling when he made the observation, as Mr. Coombs implied.
Upon being questioned by David Coombs, Col. Choike disavowed the tone of a Dr. Seuss-ian poem in an email by Marine Corps legal counsel Christopher Greer to Col. Choike:
“I can wear them in a box. I can wear them with a fox. I can wear them in the day. I can wear them so I say. But I can’t wear them at night. My comments gave the staff a fright.”
Brig Commander Col. Robert Oltman would respond to Lt. Col. Greer’s email by himself referencing “Green Eggs & Ham,” signing his name “Sam I am.” On Wednesday, when he took the stand, Col. Oltman said that it would have been irresponsible not to take what Manning’s “flip-flop” line as being serious. “You don’t joke about suicide,” Col. Oltman testified, according to Bradley Manning Support Group writer Nathan Fuller.
Given the generally high rate of guilty verdicts in military trials, and his own offers to make a conditional plea “by substitution,” Private Manning’s defense strategy over the next three months hinges on calls for sympathy based, respectively, on the length of his pre-trial incarceration (over 900 days), and the severity of his treatment during that time. Private Manning will try to cut deals in which each day of his upcoming will count for multiple days, depending on how much defense counsel can impress upon Judge Denise Lind the degree of unpleasantness in at least 23-hour-a-day lockdowns in a 6-foot-by-8-foot cell. Private Manning has called for a dismissal of his case due to a claim that his right to a speedy trial was ignored.
David Coombs and prosecutor Major Ashden Fein are locked in a chicken-and-egg argument on the relationship between precautions allegedly intended to prevent Private Manning’s suicide, and those measures’ ironic, potential debilitating effects on Private Manning’s state of mind. The private’s treatment faced such scrutiny that it was enough to elicit criticism from a State Department spokesman and a U.N. special rapporteur on torture. Throughout his hours of questioning Tuesday’s witness Mr. Coombs tried to highlight for the judge and the press in attendance a contrast in the levels of attention Col. Choike and his superiors paid to public relations management of Private Manning’s incarceration, as opposed to the prisoner’s actual treatment.
Observers to the first day of the trial included Maryland Green Party Senate candidate and attorney Kevin Zeese and Ray McGovern, a former CIA analyst who briefed multiple presidents on the Soviet Union during the Cold War. As the trial was on recess, waiting in the observers trailer next to the courtroom, Mr. McGovern communicated his confidence that there was a net social benefit to Private Manning’s leaking of secret-classified documents. Near and dear to Mr. McGovern’s heart is fragmentary order (FRAGO) 242, revealed via the Iraq War logs, which Mr. McGovern said was the brain-child of now resigned CIA director David Petraeus, who then served as the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq.
Field reports, made available through Private Manning’s infractions, reveal a tolerance of detainee abuse by occupying U.S. authorities, in light of FRAGO 242, named in one May 16, 2005 instance as: “Provided the initial report [of abuse] confirms US forces were not involved in the detainee abuse, no further investigation will be conducted unless directed by [higher headquarters].”
A November 29, 2005 press conference provides an exchange in contradiction with this fragmentary order, during which then Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Joint Chiefs Chair General Peter Pace exhibited differing perspectives on the blind eye UPI’s Pam Hess said the U.S. military was turning to prisoner abuse by Iraqi security forces, who Secretary Rumsfeld opined were doing a “darn good job.”
General Pace said, “It is absolutely the responsibility of every U.S. service member, if they see inhumane treatment being conducted, to intervene to stop it. As an example of how to do it if you don’t see if happening but you’re told about it is exactly what happened a couple weeks ago. There’s a report from an Iraqi to [General Karl Horst] that there is possibility of inhumane treatment in a particular facility. That U.S. commander got together with his Iraqi counterparts. They went together to the facility, found what they found, reported it to the Iraqi government, and the Iraqi government has taken ownership of that problem and is investigating it. So they did exactly what they should have done.
Secretary Rumsfeld said, “But I don’t think you mean they have an obligation to physically stop it. It’s to report it.”
To this General Pace offered contradiction, “If they are physically present when inhumane treatment is taking place, sir, they have an obligation to try to stop it.”
Ray McGovern published a blog post Wednesday that details his own take on Private Manning’s treatment, which takes much inspiration from The Guardian’s reporting on the revelations Private Manning brought to the eyes of the world. Secretary Rumsfeld did publicly urge the Iraqi government to investigate grisly examples of prisoner abuse, while insisting on deferring to Iraq’s own investigative mechanisms, citing the occupied nation’s “sovereignty.”
From The Guardian:
A man who was detained by Iraqi soldiers in an underground bunker reported that he had been subjected to the notoriously painful strappado position: with his hands tied behind his back, he was suspended from the ceiling by his wrists. The soldiers had then whipped him with plastic piping and used electric drills on him. The log records that the man was treated by US medics; the paperwork was sent through the necessary channels; but yet again, no investigation was required.
The court has ruled that Private Manning’s own motives or the effects of his leaks, as The Internet Chronicle has previously reported while attending a pre-trial session, are to have no effect on the outcome on his sentence or charges. As evinced by the private two consective nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize, his motives have elicited widespread laud.
As The Internet Chronicle reported last April, David Coombs’ pre-trial arguments suggested the possibility that Private Manning may have exercised personal discretion in his choice of particular documents to hand off to WikiLeaks, leaving open the possibility that the private may have removed information to protect U.S. assets, techniques, tactics and procedures. However, as was reported, “the defense’s suggestions that Private Manning, Mr. Fein argued, had performed self-redactions to mitigate damage were not material; the defendant, he said, lacked the direct knowledge as well as the original classification authority (OCA) to properly make such an assessment [of what to leak].”
In conversation with Kevin Zeese in the parking lot of the Fort Meade base theater, long-time source Mr. Zeese contended that, had any harm come to a U.S. serviceman or servicewoman, as a result of Private Manning’s leaks, political pressure would have been too seductive to avoid placing this additional heat on the private, despite the State Department’s standard line, dating back to December 2010, that it does not comment on leaked classified information.
“If the government could show the documents Manning released caused direct harm they would jump at the opportunity,” said Mr. Zeese. “I would be surprised if they didn’t.”