2011-01-27 Bradley Manning: The Week in Review

The last 7 days have seen numerous developments in the Bradley Manning story, which indicate clear problems with the official line on Manning's detainment and on the criminal investigation into Manning's charges. We have also been given insight into the management of the Brig at Quantico, and into the process by which the United States government discourages supporters of causes it find troublesome. (For the complete background on the Bradley Manning story, please see FDL's excellent timeline, here.)

Manning on Suicide Watch

Last week, as summarised in this Jane Hamsher post on FDL, Bradley Manning's conditions were decidedely worsened when Quantico Brig Commander James Averhart moved him to suicide watch - a move allowing his confinement in conditions equivalent to solitary confinement, while ostensibly being "for his own good."


For over five months, Bradley Manning has been held under Prevention of Injury (POI) watch at the Quantico Brig against the recommendations of three forensic psychiatrists. Manning’s attorney, David Coombs, has filed an Article 138 Complaint under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, asserting that this represents an abuse of Brig Commander James Averhart’s discretion.

Coombs’ complaint was filed after the Brig Commander placed Manning under “suicide risk” and MAX custody earlier this week, which made his conditions dramatically worse. Glenn Greenwald broke the story about the inhumane conditions of Manning’s pre-trial confinement last month, shortly before the New York Times reported that the Justice Department strategy regarding Wikileaks was to “persuade” Manning to testify against Julain Assange.

Hamsher related that Manning was released from suicide watch following the filing of the Article 138 Complaint by David Coombs, but that no adequate justification for the decision had been forthcoming.

She mentioned that a petition for the humane treatment of Bradley Manning had been signed by 40,000 people, and that the next visit to Quantico, upon David House's return froma fund raising trip, would be the occasion on which the petition was delivered to Quantico.

Over 40,000 people have now signed the petition to the Brig Commander, requesting that he heed the advice of the three psychiatrists and lift Manning’s POI/suicide watch... I’ll be driving down to Quantico tomorrow with Bradley’s friend David House, who will deliver the petition to the brig.

I know that it has been extremely meaningful to Bradley to know that he has the support of so many people.

Harassment of House and Hamsher

On arrival at the Quantico military facility, Hamsher and House were subject to highly irregular delay tactics by military police at Quantico. They were made answer to apparently frivolous demands for documentation, and detained at the gates of the the facility until it was no longer possible for House to visit Manning. The spectacle unfolded live for Twitter followers of either individual, since both provided the public with regular updates on the development of the situation. This had not been the first time the U.S. authorities had harassed David House.

The following is an extract. Please click here to see the full archive oftweets from Hamsher and House.

Jane Hamsher

At Quantico w @ to deliver 42,000 sigs 4 Bradley Maning to brig. Holding us at gate, never happened before:

Jane Hamsher

Called Lt Brian Villiard of Quantico on Friday and again today as courtesy to say we were coming re: Bradley Manning, never called me back.

Jane Hamsher

Demanding my social security number before they'll let me on Quantico base, but won't say why. Never happened before.

Jane Hamsher

Guess Lt Villiard better at reading FDL than returning phone calls. For first time, made us sign letter saying we won't deliver any pkgs.

Jane Hamsher

Quantico guards say I'll be arrested if I go to McDonalds while @ visits Manning. "That privilege has been withdrawn."

Jane Hamsher

Now been here at Quantico gate for 30 min. Will not let us leave base, holding us.

Jane Hamsher

Gunny Foster Military Police #1715 writing me ticket for not hving latest insurance card. Sorry to 42,000 people who signed Manning petition

Jane Hamsher

Can't leave base, can't go 2 brig, can't get my driver's license, Gunt Foster threatening 2 arrest us. Haven't done a thing.

Jane Hamsher

Now Quantico guards want @ driver's license back for 2nd time.

Michael Whitney wrote up the incident hereon FDL, and posted a video of Hamsher's appearance on the Dylan Ratigan show, where she summarized the events.

Official Malcontents

On Monday evening, NBC reported that "US military officials" had divulged to NBC that Brig Commander James Averhart had overstepped the bounds of his authority when he gave the order to put Manning on suicide watch.


The officials told NBC News, however, that a U.S. Marine commander did violate procedure when he placed Manning on "suicide watch" last week.

Military officials said Brig Commander James Averhart did not have the authority to place Manning on suicide watch for two days last week, and that only medical personnel are allowed to make that call. The official said that after Manning had allegedly failed to follow orders from his Marine guards. Averhart declared Manning a "suicide risk." Manning was then placed on suicide watch, which meant he was confined to his cell, stripped of most of his clothing and deprived of his reading glasses — anything that Manning could use to harm himself.

At the urging of U.S. Army lawyers, Averhart lifted the suicide watch.

The same unnamed "officials" were reported to have disclosed that the investigatory attempt to build a case against Julian Assange by substantiating an alleged link between him and Bradley Manning had not been successful. This investigation had been suspected since early November, and gradually confirmed by the disclosure of the Twitter subpoena in early January. The same investigation would aim to incriminate Manning by association with Assange. According to NBC's "officials," there was apparently no evidence supporting the government's case.

U.S. military officials tell NBC News that investigators have been unable to make any direct connection between a jailed army private suspected with leaking secret documents and Julian Assange, founder of the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks.

The officials say that while investigators have determined that Manning had allegedly unlawfully downloaded tens of thousands of documents onto his own computer and passed them to an unauthorized person, there is apparently no evidence he passed the files directly to Assange, or had any direct contact with the controversial WikiLeaks figure.

Marcy Wheeler provided some commentary on her emptywheelblog.

Wired and Zerofilling

Kim Zetter, at Wired, responded to the NBC news item with some speculation, based on the Wired Manning-Lamo chat logs, as to why no evidence linking Assange and Manning was forthcoming.


If it’s true that investigators have found no evidence linking Manning and Assange, it may be because Manning allegedly erased it from his system. He discussed doing so in his chats with Lamo. Manning noted in the chats that any incriminating evidence of his activities had been “zerofilled”, or erased, from his computers:

It ought to be pointed out that it is necessary to assume that there is a substantiating link between Manning and Assange in order to speculate as to why there is no evidence of such. Marcy Wheeler also posted a response to Zetter's article, with a broader interpretation of the chatlogs thus far released by Wired.


Manning suggests that every time computers were moved, they were zerofilled. And whatever happened to his computer while he still had access to him, it might be safe to assume that the downloaded files got zerofilled routinely when the computers were reassigned (remember, as far as we know, he lost access not because of the alleged leak, but because of an altercation with a colleague).

Mind you, I’m skeptical that Manning zerofilled anything himself. That’s because his charging sheet includes multiple references to things he downloaded onto his personal, non-secure computer. Which suggests the most solid evidence they have against Manning comes from that (though they do appear to have evidence he accessed things he did not download onto his computer).

But all that really just ignores the larger point: that none of that evidence – at least given reports – directly connects Manning to Julian Assange.

Investigation into Averhart?

On Tuesday evening, CNN ran a story which was retracted soon afterwards, which reported that an investigation had been opened into the misconduct of James Averhart alleged in Monday's NBC article.

A screencap, and commentary, were archived by Marcy Wheeler, here.

The original CNN story read:

The U.S. military isinvestigating why the commander of the military jail put Pfc. Bradley Manning, suspected of leaking documents to WikiLeaks, on suicide watch for a few days last week, according to Pentagon spokesman Col. David Lapan... An investigation has been launched into whether Brig Commander James Averhart had the authority to place Manning on suicide watch, which is usually ordered by the medical staff.

Geoff Morrell and official misinformation

At a Defense Department press conference yesterday, Defense Department Press Secretary Geoff Morrell (notorious for his demand that Wikileaks "give back" digital documents already released widely on the internet) answered questions generated from the previous week of news about Manning and Wikileaks. Morrell was evasive on the issue of whether the attempt to link Assange to Manning was faltering, and also, cryptically, cautioned that the timbre of reporting on the issue might damage the investigation.


Q: Geoff, is it true that prosecutors have not been able to tie Private [Bradley] Manning to Julian Assange and essentially make a link between the two in the case?

MR. MORRELL: Well, what I would say on this is, as much as I'd like to weigh into this, this is, as you know, an ongoing criminal investigation. So it would be inappropriate for me to speak to any -- with any specificity to these issues. But I would avail myself of this opportunity to admonish or warn you all to be extraordinarily careful about how you report on this story, because one thing I can -- I do feel comfortable in telling you is that this case is being taken extremely seriously by the investigators both here in the Defense Department and, of course, at the Department of Justice. They are hard at work at on building a case here. So any pronouncements about a connection or lack of connection, those that have been found or are yet to be found, are just premature at this point. So I'd urge everybody to proceed with caution on this, and probably most stories, for that matter. So I'm not in a position, unfortunately, to tackle that as directly as I'd like to. But that's my admonition to you all, including Mr. [Jim “Mik”] Miklaszewskiin the front row.

Questioned on the conditions of Manning's detainment, Morrell unequivocally denied that Manning was being detained in inhumane or unique conditions.

He's not being held in solitary confinement. That's a misnomer, among many in the reporting of this case... So assertions by liberal bloggers, or network reporters or others that he is being mistreated, or somehow treated differently than others, in isolation, are just not accurate. And I'm glad you asked the question, so I had the opportunity, hopefully, to clear that matter up once and for all... Just as though he is not being treated any worse than any other detainee, he is not being treated any better than any other detainee. He is not going to receive special privileges, which is essentially what you are asking him to receive. He is being treated exactly like everyone else in the brig is being treated. That's what's appropriate. We treat them all equally. And I don't understand why there would be a need for an exception to those rules to be made for Private Manning -- or anyone else, for that matter.

Pressed for details on this arrangement, however, Morrell avoided questions, claiming ignorance,and referring them on to Quantico. He dismissed claims that Averhart had acted in usurpation of his authority in putting Manning on suicide watch, and yet claimed not to know whether that authority lay with Averhart, concluding that he guessed it would.

David Coombs rebuts Morrell: Manning is treated differently

Manning's lawyer, David Coombs, respondedwithin hours to Morrell's statements, roundly refuting them with reference to the specific military penal guidelines under the Secretary of Navy Instruction 1649.9C, citing clearly defined protocols for different levels of detainment.


Despite the assertion of Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell, PFC Bradley Manning is not being treated like every other detainee at the Quantico brig. Morrell stated during today’s Pentagon briefing that PFC Manning’s “confinement is not in the least different from the manner in which anyone else at the brig is being held.”

This statement is patently false. PFC Manning is being treated differently. He is the only detainee being held in Maximum (MAX) custody and under Prevention of Injury (POI) watch. Every other detainee is being held in Medium Detention In (MDI) and without POI watch restrictions. What is the difference?

Coombs goes on to enumerate the differences in minute detail between the different custodial regimes, appearing to be entirely more appraised of the facts than the prevaricating Morrell.

Averhart Replaced

In a report from yesterday evening, CNN revealed that James Averhart had been replaced as Quantico Brig Commander. The official line, as related by the article, is that the replacement has nothing to do with the Manning controversy.


Chief Warrant Officer James Averhart, who had been in charge of the detention facility at Marine Corps Base Quantico in Virginia, was replaced by Chief Warrant Officer Denise Barnes, Quantico spokesman Lt. Brian Villiard said.

The change in command was ordered back in October and is not related to the concerns raised by Manning's lawyer, said Villiard. But Manning's lawyer is holding out hope that the new commander will move his client to a less restrictive incarceration status.

"We are hopeful that she will do a complete review of Pfc. Manning's custody situation," attorney David Coombs, told CNN. Manning's current situation "is unwarranted and unnecessary while he awaits trial," Coombs added.

Situation Develops

This is the situation as of the time of publication. WL Central will add new developments as they happen. Again, for the full context of the Bradley Manning story, please consult FDL's excellent timeline of events.

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