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January 08, 2013

Judge: Bradley Manning Punished Unlawfully But Not Enough to Warrant More Than Weak Relief

Posted in: Court Decisions,WikiLeaks

Judge Denise Lind (Photo by Clark Stoeckley)

In a highly anticipated court decision, a military judge awarded Pfc. Bradley Manning 112 days sentencing credit for unlawful pretrial punishment experienced while confined in a brig at Marine Corps Base Quantico. She did not find evidence to support the dismissal of any charges against Manning.

The soldier, who the military is prosecuting for allegedly releasing classified information to WikiLeaks, was held in the facility from July 29, 2010, to April 20, 2011. He was held as a maximum custody detainee on prevention of injury status, which is a clinical psychiatric status a detainee is placed on when it is believed the detainee poses a risk of self-harm.

Judge Army Col. Denise Lind accepted that the facility was not structured to hold detainees in pretrial confinement. In fact, it was not resourced to house detainees like Manning for more than 180 days. There were no “organic” mental health care assets. Other pretrial detainees confined during Manning’s period of confinement were typically there for only two weeks to three months.  However, she did not believe there was any intent in the Marine Corps chain of command to punish Manning.

Lind did not accept the defense argument that there had been any unlawful command influence from superior officers that led the commanding officer of Quantico to keep Manning in restrictive conditions for no justifiable reason. Lt. Gen. George Flynn, commanding general of Quantico, had a “need to know of any changes” so he could properly engage with officials in the higher headquarters.

There was “no intent ot punish the accused by anyone on the Brig staff,” she found. The staff intended to ensure he was safe and “did not hurt or kill himself and was present for trial.” The charges are “serious” and there was “no intent to punish the accused.”

As the government conceded during its closing argument on the defense’s “unlawful pretrial punishment” motion, Manning was awarded seven days for two periods during his confinement: August 6-11 in 2010 and January 18-20 in 2011, when he was not taken off suicide risk , even though medical officers advised the Brig officer-in-charge (OIC) to remove him from this status. [The defense had asked for a 10-for-1 credit. She rejected that request and went with what the government had requested—1-for-1 credit.]

Lind accepted that it was reasonable for Quantico Brig staff to believe Manning had “suicidal ideations.” For the period between August 27 and November 1, it was acceptable for him to be on prevention of injury status. At a certain point, key statements that had influenced the decision could no longer be used to keep him in the strict confinement conditions. She found from November 1 to January 18 Manning was unlawfully punished and awarded him 75 days of credit.

From April 1 to April 20, Lind ruled Manning had been unlawfully punished because he was kept in conditions that amounted to suicide risk but not put on that status. This was during the period when CWO2 Denise Barnes was having Manning’s underwear removed each night. Even though doctors were recommending he be taken off suicide risk, he kept having his underwear taken each night.

It was a “close call,” she said, but ultimately there was a history in the brig of maintaining him on prevention of injury status without proper justification.

Finally, Lind found that Manning should have been permitted one hour of recreation or exercise each day. The violation was minor in her opinion. She gave him ten days of sentencing credit.

What she did not find constituted punishment was denying Manning an unmonitored visit with UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Mendez and Congressman Dennis Kucinich. These were not “official visits” and were not occurring under discretion of the Executive Branch. It was permissible for Quantico to refuse to allow an unmonitored visit.

She also concluded the government had “not held” Manning in solitary confinement because that means “alone and without human contact.” There were no doors separating him and there were regular walkthrough visits by commanding officers. He had human interaction.

And she did not consider the board that reviewed his confinement conditions on a regular basis to be responsible for any unlawful punishment. There was no bias or attempt by the senior member, Gunnery Sgt. Craig Blenis, to influence review board decisions.


There’s much to say about this ruling and this is only the conclusion. There were tidbits about Manning’s mental health issues while confined at a facility in Kuwait that deserve a bit of attention, as they clearly factored in the judge’s belief that that Quantico staff handled Manning properly and with good justification for the other one hundred or so days that he was confined at Quantico.

Manning faces the possibility of a life sentence for “aiding the enemy.” The defense had hoped to get much more out of this decision than a meager 112 days. They had asked for 10-to-1 credit. They had presented what looked like reasonable evidence in emails that higher-ranking commanders were communicating with commanding officers at Quantico about how to handle Manning in the facility. But the judge did not think that there was any culture in the military that would have led to Manning being punished.

More significantly, there is no ruling for the public to read today. The judge read a ruling for over one hour and a half and the entire press pool scrambled to keep up with what she was reading. There were no breaks. She read the entire ruling, which was probably at least fifty pages if not more.

It was a completely flagrant abuse of secrecy powers, especially when you consider the fact that the ruling was pretty favorable to the government in the sense that the ruling did not award Manning more sentencing credit.

The reading of the ruling today was a prime example of why a challenge against secrecy in the court martial proceedings brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights to grant the press and the public access to court filings, such as government motions, court orders and transcripts of proceedings is critical.

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