Things are starting to get a little bit weird at the pretrial hearings for Bradley Manning, the Army private charged with leaking thousands of classified U.S. military documents to WikiLeaks. Manning returned to the courtroom at Fort Mead, Maryland on Tuesday, when the court turned to one of the case's most controversial issues: the 24-year-old's treatment while in custody. We've long known that Manning was kept kept in solitary confinement in a 6-foot by 8-foot cell and at times was forced to strip naked at night and for cell inspections. We didn't exactly know why, though.
Tuesday's testimony finally offered a few clues. Dan Choike, the commander of the Quantico marine base during the time that Manning was detained, took the stand and answered a series of questions about the decision to keep Manning in solitary confinement and stripped of all his clothes. Choike said he agreed to the extreme measures after Manning was put on suicide watch due to his "erratic behaviour, poor judgment in the past and poor family relationships." What exactly does that mean? Manning's defense attorney David Coombs asked the commander to be specific. "His acting out, playing peek-a-boo, licking the bars of his cell, dancing, erratic dancing --those are the ones I recall," Choike replied.
That does sound like sort of strange behavior, but what did they expect after keeping the prisoner under close watch, checking him every five minutes and keeping the lights on all night? It certainly couldn't have helped that the prison guards wrote songs to make fun of Manning's situation. Choire repeated the lyrics to the judge. It's about Manning's lack of underpants, inspired by Dr. Seuss's Green Eggs and Ham: "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."
Stay classy, U.S. military.
Later this week, Manning will to take the stand for the first time since his whole ordeal began in 2010 and is expected to ask the judge to throw out the charges on the grounds that the inhumane treatment while being detained was punishment enough for what he did. The famous quote from chat logs two years ago that Manning used to justify the leaks makes as much sense now, in this scenario, as it did then: "I want people to see the truth."