A company commander in Pfc. Bradley Manning’s Army chain of command, who made multiple visits to see Manning while he was imprisoned at Quantico Marine Brig, took the stand as a government witness today to provide testimony on Manning’s treatment. He did not initially appear to have any notion that Manning was mistreated while he was held there, but in the final moments of his testimony he indicated he did not agree with some of the decisions. He also had not been informed of the fact that mental health officers were recommending Manning be taken off prevention of injury (POI) status. And when he finished testifying, he stood up and walked over to shake Manning’s hand.
Cpt. Joseph Casamatta, who was then a company commander at Ft. Myer, said Manning came to his company in July 2010. While Manning was at Quantico, he visited him about ten times and tried to have someone from the chain of command visit him every other week, if possible, to “make sure” he was “being taken care of appropriately.”
When he visited, they would go through a checklist. He would sit in a non-contact booth. Manning would sit in restraints across from him on the other side of a glass window. They would talk ten to twenty minutes.
At first he was not “talkative,” but as weeks went on he opened up more. He was engaged and “always respectful.” He never indicated he would harm himself or try to harm others. He did not think Manning ever appeared withdrawn or reserved.
Cpt. Casamatta said he had a “good rapport” with Manning. They would speak not just about the items on the checklist that had to do with how things were going with his pretrial confinement. He would engage him in conversation about family, the area nearby in Maryland, and they talked a lot about sports (probably March Madness at times).
Manning never complained about the guards and how they were treating him. He said they were “professional,” according to Cpt. Casamatta. Manning also said the facility was treating him professionally as well. (This matches with his testimony on Friday, November 30.)
Cpt. Casamatta said he had asked if the facility “any library system for him.” Was he allowed to read magazines? What would be the process for purchasing those? This was typically what he and other lower-ranking officers in his command that visited Manning could do to ensure he was okay.
He would sometimes escort Manning to appointments. At no point did Cpt. Casamatta observe unusual behavior.
In September 2010, he said he was “confused” about why he was on POI status. Cpt. Casamatta asked Brig personnel why he was on increased status and was told it was to keep him from hurting himself, he told Manning this at the next meeting.
The next time he was told by Manning he was “confused” by his POI status it was in January 2011. Manning said he had submitted a form on January 7 to CWO4 James Averhart, the Brig OIC. He asked about the increased status again, the being placed on suicide risk. First Sergeant Bruce Williams, who also testified today, notified him of the change in status. He was told that there was a board meeting every week to evaluate whether he was being confined at the appropriate level. He wanted to make sure procedures were being followed.
Cpt. Casamatta did not feel like intervening because the Brig had “their standard operating procedure they were going off” and, in his mind, it was not “necessary to intervene in what they were doing.” At no point did Cpt. Casamatta feel Manning’s health or welfare was degrading.
Manning’s defense lawyer cross-examined Cpt. Casamatta on what he knew about a January 18, 2011, incident that has been key to this hearing. Manning had an anxiety attack and passed out, then ran away from officers and hid behind a fitness machine in the Brig’s indoor recreation room. He was placed on suicide risk. But he saw nothing to indicate Manning was a suicide risk. He asked CWO4 Averhart what happened. CWO4 Averhart said there had been an “outburst.”
Cpt. Casamatta was not told that the mental health officer examining Manning did not think suicide risk was warranted. He said he would have “readdressed” the issue had he been told. He would have called the Brig for justification, “not to tell them how to do their job” but to find out what basis they they had to increase his status.
He testified that he did not understand why Manning was placed on increased suicide watch status on March 2, 2011, when CWO2 Denise Barnes chose to begin taking his underwear in the night time. He found out about the comment and drew his own conclusion about what was said – if I really wanted to kill myself, I could use the elastic of my underwear.
Having “the luxury” to assess it as an “outsider,” he did not take this as a threat of suicide. He said he considered it “a tongue-in-cheek comment.” Manning is an “intelligent and articulate person, he said, and,”I believe he just wouldn’t have such thoughts of killing himself with his underwear.” He spoke to Col. Carl Coffman, who served as the Special Court Martial Convening Authority, and told him he did not think his comment warranted him having his underwear removed.
Cpt. Casamatta was never told why Manning was held in maximum custody and on POI for nine months. Also, when Judge Army Col. Denise Lind asked him questions, he told her it was his belief that CWO2 Barnes had placed Manning on the “maximum level of status.” This is not what happened. He had his underwear taken away improperly and CWO2 Barnes did not have the authority. But, Cpt. Casamatta—as evidenced by his testimony—was never made aware of that.
He also did not become aware that the mental health officers were commending he be taken off POI status until the trial started. He thought he should have been made aware of that because then he could have spoken to the mental health professionals to get information that could have made it easier for him to be a part of a “decision-making process.”
What he meant was he could have told the Brig he disagreed with how they were handling Manning’s confinement. But he was never told that anyone was recommending Manning be taken off POI so he never had reason to question the Brig. (He also did not believe the “front page news” stories since he did not think it likely a “company commander” had forced Manning to stand naked at attention, as one news organization reported.)
MSGT. Brian Papakie and then-GYSGT. Craig Blenis both testified they had a conversation about taking Manning off POI status around mid-January. Staff Sgt. Ryan Jordan said this too. But, Cpt. Casamatta had no idea that any of this had taken place among officers at the Brig.
When Cpt. Casamatta finished, he left the witness stand and shook Bradley Manning’s hand. It was further proof that they had developed “good rapport” between one another.
It is clear from his testimony that Cpt. Casamatta may have spoken up for Manning had he been given more information. It is evident that, at times, he did ask for more information on what the Brig was doing and why they were keeping him in certain confinement conditions. He may not have been as aggressive as Manning wanted but it appears Manning respected him for what he did for him while he was imprisoned at Quantico.
*For more from today’s proceedings in Manning’s “unlawful pretrial punishment” hearing, here’s the blog for the day.