Testimony on 'Unlawful Punishment' of Manning


By: Kevin Gosztola
Wednesday November 28, 2012

Retired Colonel Daniel Choike, who served as the Quantico Marine Brig commander while Manning was imprisoned there for nine months, took the stand to testify during the latest hearing in the court martial of Pfc. Bradley Manning. The defense had him take the stand to testify on the confinement conditions that were imposed on Manning while at the Brig as part of argument over an "unlawful pretrial punishment" motion.

The motion calls for all charges with prejudice to be dismissed or "10-for-1 sentencing credit" for the 258 days Manning served in conditions "equivalent to solitary confinement." It is the subject of the hearing all week.

Choike gave over three hours of testimony from the witness stand. The most critical testimony probably came during Judge Army Col. Denise Lind's line of questioning. She asked him about the Sanity Board that was to determine whether Manning was mentally fit to stand trial or not. It was having problems meeting and completing its work. Lind asked if he believed Quantico was adequately resourced to house someone of Manning's stature.

Other maximum custody (MAX) detainees, the inability to predict the number of incoming detainees, downsizing and the fact that the Brig did not have "dedicated medical support" all made it difficult. Choike answered "no". The Brig was not a place for long-term confinement. It was adequate for 90 days. When he found out Manning was being transferred to Quantico, he told Brigadier General Karl Horst of the Army that he was concerned about "long-term pretrial confinement." Choike informed the brigadier general he did not "believe Manning should be detained more than 90 days at the Brig."
Many of the questions Manning's defense lawyer, David Coombs, had centered on emails sent between officers at the Brig. They were part of a set of over 1,200 emails the defense became aware of in July of this year. Through litigation in August, the defense convinced the government to willfully hand over the six hundred emails (in addition to the 84 emails, which initially tipped the defense off that there were more emails between officers that existed). The judge ordered the government to hand over all but 12 of the rest of the six hundred or so remaining emails. These were used by the defense to meticulously demonstrate how the Brig abused or failed Manning.

Coombs asked Choike about weekly updates he was receiving from Chief Warrant Officer James Averhart and Chief Warrant Officer Denise Barnes, who succeeded Averhart. These updates on Manning's condition would be forwarded to him. However, they would not go up to Lt. Gen. George Flynn, who was the Quantico Base commander. Choike suggested Gen. Flynn was not interested in details in the weekly updates. Essentially, Flynn was not concerned with Manning's condition. He was only concerned with what was being reported about Manning's confinement at Quantico in the media, especially in the months between December 2010 and March 2011.

Flynn was infuriated when he read about the incident involving Manning being stripped naked and made to stand outside his cell naked for roll call in the morning in the New York Times. He sent a message, "It would be good to have leadership have heads up on these things before they're read in the early bird!" (Early bird is a military synopsis of various news stories/press releases.)

The March incident received particular attention during the hearing. This was the incident where Manning said to an officer if he really wanted to kill himself he could with the elastic waistband of his underwear or with his flip-flops. That led Barnes to decide to take his underwear and flip-flops away without consulting any mental health professionals.

Coombs described in the motion:
…On 3 March 2011, PFC Manning was told to get out of bed for the morning DBS [Duty Brig Supervisor] inspection. PFC Manning was not given any of his clothing back before the morning inspection. PFC Manning walked towards the front of his cell with his suicide blanket covering his genitals. The Brig guard outside his cell told him that he was not permitted to cover himself with his blanket because that would mean that he would not be standing at parade rest. PFC Manning relinquished the blanket and stood completely naked at parade rest, which required him to stand with his hands behind his back and his legs spaced shoulder width apart. PFC Manning stood at parade rest for about three minutes until the DBS arrived. Once the DBS arrived, everyone was called to attention. The DBS and the other guards walked past PFC Manning's cell. The DBS looked at PFC Manning, paused for a moment, and then continued to the next detainee’s cell. After the DBS completed his inspection, PFC Manning was told to go sit on his bed. ... PFC Manning was also required to stand naked at attention the next four days…

Choike testified in court Manning had stood naked for morning count because, although he was given blankets or a smock to cover himself, he chose to stand naked.

Dumbfounded, Coombs replied, “Who told you that?” And added, "Why in the world would a brig allow a detainee to stand naked?" Choike maintained he had "appropriate clothing or blankets to cover himself" and chose not to do so.

Over the objection of the government and faced with skepticism from the judge, Coombs continued. He asked why a DBS would allow this and would not correct the situation. Choike said Manning was "just one individual within" the Brig. The DBS probably had other duties or responsibilities, which is complete nonsense given the fact that Manning was such a high-profile detainee who was placed in a cell that could easily be observed.

Coombs was befuddled and asked if he could do something if an egregious incident occurred where a detainee was tied to a radiator or something like that. Choike said yes. He would have the authority. So, basically, Choike did not find the March incident where Manning was stripped naked to be egregious.

And that is the key to understanding the officers, who have been in key positions of authority to ensure Manning's rights were not violated. From Col. Carl Coffman, the Special Court Martial Convening Authority, to Daniel Choike, the Quantico Brig commander, to Lt. Gen. George Flynn, the Quantico Base commander, none of these people in positions of authority were willing to take any steps to bring this travesty and farce to an end.

Staff Judge Advocate Lt. Col. Christopher Greer sent an email joking about Manning having his underwear taken from him:

…As Dr. Seuss would say, I can wear them in a box. I can wear them with a fox. I can wear them with socks. I can wear them in the day so I say. I can't wear them at night. My comments gave the staff a fright…

All officers like Choike cared about was that—as Flynn put it— Quantico would not be "left the holding the bag: if something happened to Manning. And whatever they could do to limit media attention or get out in front of details on Manning’s confinement appearing on Coombs’ blog would be done to make it seem there was nothing going on with Manning and there was no reason for any senior officials or members of the public to be concerned.

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