Commander: WikiLeaks suspect's treatment closely watched by US supervisors

David Dishneau, The Associated Press

FORT MEADE, Md. - The former boss of a U.S. Marine Corps brig testified Monday that she was "shocked" when the base commander asked for advance notice of any planned orders regarding the confinement of Bradley Manning, the Army soldier charged with giving classified information to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks.

Denise Barnes was the brig commander during the last three months of Manning's confinement there. He was held in maximum custody during his nine months there, with additional restrictions said to be aimed at preventing suicide or self-injury. He was confined to his cell at least 23 hours a day and spent some of the time naked.

Manning contends the conditions were so harsh that all charges against him should be dropped. The government must prove that brig officials justifiably believed the conditions were needed to keep Manning from hurting himself.

The pretrial hearing is to determine if the conditions amounted to illegal pretrial punishment.

The 24-year-old Manning is accused of leaking hundreds of thousands of classified Iraq and Afghanistan war logs and more than 250,000 diplomatic cables while working as an intelligence analyst in Baghdad in 2009 and 2010. He is charged with 22 offences, including aiding the enemy, which carries a maximum penalty of life in prison.

The hearing is scheduled to end Wednesday.

Brig commanders have sole authority to determine the custody status of detainees, Barnes said. But she testified that Col. Daniel Choike, then garrison commander at the Quantico brig, asked for advance notice after Barnes ordered in early March 2011 that Manning be stripped of his underwear each night as a suicide-prevention measure.

Manning stood naked at attention the next morning, resulting in news coverage that embarrassed the military and heightened worldwide interest in his case.

Barnes said Choike called her to say that Lt. Gen. George Flynn, then the highest-ranking officer at Quantico, wanted her to run any orders involving Manning up the chain of command before executing them.

"I was kind of shocked," Barnes said. "The base commander does not control the brig OIC." The acronym stands for "officer in charge."

Barnes said she never received any orders regarding Manning's confinement conditions. He continued to be stripped of his underwear at night until he was moved to medium-security confinement at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, in April 2011.

Barnes acknowledged that nothing in the military corrections manual authorizes removing clothing from detainees who aren't on suicide watch. Manning was on less-restrictive "prevention of injury" status at the time and remained so until he left Quantico.

Defence attorney David Coombs claims the conditions of Manning's confinement at Quantico were controlled by Flynn. Choike has denied that Flynn influenced Manning's confinement.

Two members of Manning's Army chain of command testified that he told them almost weekly that he didn't understand why he was on the heightened restrictions. Capt. Joe Casamatta said he followed up on the matter and was told by brig commanders that Manning was at risk of harming himself. Manning had acknowledged having suicidal thoughts shortly after his arrest nine months earlier.

Casamatta said he became skeptical of the explanation after the underwear seizure, which was prompted by a remark Manning had made to a guard about the dangerous waistband. Casamatta said he regarded Manning as an intelligent, articulate soldier who made a tongue-in-cheek comment.

"I just believed he wouldn't have such thoughts as to actually kill himself with his underwear, sir," Casamatta said during cross-examination by Coombs.