FORT MEADE, Md. -- Closing arguments for a hearing over alleged WikiLeaks source Bradley Manning's treatment in pre-trial detention ended Tuesday, with his lawyer arguing that his conditions in the Quantico Marine brig were so degrading that all the charges against him should be dropped.
Manning listened in silence, with his head cradled in his hand, as his lawyer recited a litany of the conditions Manning faced in detention. He was stripped of his underwear after he joked about how he could use its elastic to commit suicide. Observed by a guard every five minutes. Allegedly forced to stand at attention, naked, during the morning count.
Manning was treated, his lawyer said, like "a zoo animal."
"The conditions that (Private First Class) Manning was under, they can only equate to death row detainees," said Manning's attorney, David E. Coombs. "If the Quantico brig could have put him in a straightjacket in a padded room and not had anybody complain, they would have."
But whether Manning's treatment amounted to unlawful punishment, and whether brig officials intended to inflict it, were the critical issues at hand as Manning's attorney essentially put the government on trial. Military judge Col. Denise Lind did not immediately rule on the arguments made in her courtroom at Fort Meade on Tuesday, but a decision could come in the next several weeks. Manning's case is not expected to go to a full trial until at least March, when he will face charges that could result in a sentence of life imprisonment.
The government has argued that Manning's conditions at Quantico on special "prevention of injury" status, a step below suicide watch, were made necessary by Manning's history of suicidal thoughts and the daunting prospect of years in prison. Prosecutor Major Ashden Fein brought up the two nooses Manning made while in detention in Kuwait, a document he filled out while being admitted to Quantico that he was "always planning, never acting" on suicidal thoughts, and an alleged pattern of uncommunicative behavior.
"The fact before this court is that there's a pattern," said Fein. "The brig officials only knew what they had in front of them, which was someone who was not like others."
After Manning made the joke about using his underwear to strangle himself, Fein contended, the brig's commanding officer, Chief Warrant Officer Denise Barnes, had little choice but to strip him of it.
"The only options she had was to remove the underwear or put him on suicide risk," he said.
"She was forced with that decision," Fein argued, adding that Barnes took pains to "minimize or mitigate" the harshness of her response by taking the less restrictive option.
But Fein did concede that being held for seven days on heightened suicide watch, even after military mental health experts said Manning should be taken off it, was tantamount to unlawful punishment and should be counted in Manning's favor during any future sentencing.
The defense and prosecution are next expected to meet on Jan. 8. Lind will consider a number of motions, including the government's request to exclude Manning's motives from the findings portion of the trial.