Army moving WikiLeaks suspect Bradley Manning to Leavenworth
Josh Gerstein, Politico, April 19, 2011
After enduring months of public complaints that WikiLeaks suspect Pfc. Bradley Manning was being treated too harshly at a brig in Virginia, the Army has decided to transfer him to a brand-new facility at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where he’ll likely have fewer restrictions and more privileges, the Pentagon said Tuesday.
While Manning is essentially being moved from maximum-security to medium-security, Pentagon General Counsel Jeh Johnson said the decision was not a concession that Manning had been treated improperly at the Quantico, Va., brig. Rather, Johnson said, it was a recognition that the Virginia facility does not customarily hold pre-trial detainees for more than a few months. Manning has been under arrest for nearly 11 months and was moved to Quantico last July.
“Army Corrections Command has reviewed the new facility and determined that it has the expertise and capability to provide continued long term pretrial confinement for Private Manning,” Johnson told a hastily organized news conference at the Pentagon on Tuesday night.
“This facility is appropriate to meet Private Manning’s health and welfare needs given the possibility that he will remain in pretrial confinement for an additional time during the Rule 706 board process [a mental competency evaluation] and the likelihood that the pretrial phase of the case will continue for months beyond that.”
Undersecretary of the Army Joe Westphal described the Leavenworth jail this way: “It’s more open. He’s got more space, more ability to intereact with other prisoners. He will eat with them.”
Officials said the move had been under consideration for several weeks. Johnson said that, after Manning met with doctors conducting the mental competency review April 9, there was little obstacle to moving him to Kansas.
Manning, his attorney, liberal activists and international human rights groups had complained that the Army was, in essence, punishing him through unnecessarily strict treatment at Quantico. They said he was in solitary confinement, with virtually no contact with other prisoners and only an hour a day out of his cell for exercise. He was forbidden to exercise in his cell and took all his meals there. At one point, he was made to sleep naked due to what the military said were suicide concerns, though Navy psychiatrists declined to support the move. More recently, he’s been given a smock to wear at night.
At the Kansas facility, officials said, Manning is expected to have three hours a day for exercise and to interact with eight other pre-trial detainees held there. However, he will not have a cell-mate and all his privileges are subject to an evaluation to be made once he arrives. The Pentagon offered reporters a tour of the Leavenworth facility. It never did that when Manning was house at Quantico.
“Many will be tempted to interpret today’s action as a criticism of the pre-trial facility at Quantico. That is not the case,” Johnson said, “We remain satisfied that Private Manning pre-trial confinement at Quantico was in compliance with legal and regulatory standards in all respects and we salute the military personnel there for the job they did in difficult circumstances.”
“It’s not designed for these long-term situations,” Undersecretary of the Army Joe Westphal said of Quantico.
Johnson said better mental health services at Leavenworth were also “a factor” in the decision.
Manning faces preliminary charges of aiding the enemy, of disclosing classified diplomatic cables, videos and other materials to those not authorized to receive them, and of violating computer security regulations. If convicted at a court martial, he could be sentenced to life in prison. A death sentence is possible but military prosecutors have indicated they don’t intend to pursue that.
Johnson said Manning will return to the Washington area “as needed” for court martial proceedings.
Manning’s situation drew the attention of liberal activists and some foreign governments, as well as the U.N. Special Rapporteur on torture, who was denied a private meeting with the prisoner. However, the most high profile criticism came from State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley, who told an audience last monthat that Manning’s treatment was “ridiculous, counterproductive and stupid.” Crowley resigned three days later.
Crowley’s comment resulted in President Barack Obama being asked about Manning’s case at a news conference. Obama said he’d asked for and obtained assurances that the conditions of Manning’s confinement were “appropriate.”
Johnson said Manning’s attorney, David Coombs, was to be informed of the move Tuesday. There was no immediate reaction from Coombs.
Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), who was also denied a private meeting with Manning, said the announcement had not resolved his concerns.
“Absolutely nothing the Department of Defense has done so far with respect to Pfc. Manning provides any assurance that his basic human and constitutional rights are being protected. The Department of Defense has refused to provide timely answers to even the most basic questions,” Kucinich said in a statement.
Johnson denied that the media attention to Manning’s case led to the move announced Tuesday, but conceded that the the issue received attention from higher-level officials than those who would have addressed it absent the news coverage.
“Because this has been in the newspaper, people at our level have been involved in taking a look at that as well,” Johnson said.