HAGERSTOWN, Md. – The Marines have replaced a brig commander accused of breaking military detainment rules for an Army private suspected of passing classified documents to WikiLeaks but a spokesman said Wednesday that the change had been planned for months.
Pfc. Bradley Manning, who worked as an intelligence analyst in Iraq, is being held at the Marine Corps base in Quantico, Va., while the Army determines whether he'll be tried. He is charged with illegally obtaining more than 150,000 secret State Department cables and giving more than 50, along with a classified video, to an unauthorized person. The video was later posted on WikiLeaks.
Manning's attorney filed a formal complaint with the base commander last week claiming that brig commander Chief Warrant Officer 4 James Averhart put Manning on suicide watch from Jan. 18-20 against the advice of the brig psychiatrist and a defense psychiatrist. During that time, Manning was confined to his single-bed cell wearing only his underwear, and his prescription eyeglasses were confiscated when he wasn't reading or watching television, attorney David Coombs said.
Command of the brig was passed during a ceremony Monday from Averhart to Chief Warrant Officer 2 Denise Barnes.
The change had been planned since October, 1st Lt. Brian Villiard said.
"This was a planned, regular-duty rotation. It just happened to be that everything fell in place when it did. It wasn't situationally driven," Villiard said in a telephone interview.
Coombs said last week that Averhart returned his client to less-restrictive "prevention of injury" status after Army lawyers reviewed the situation at the defense's request. Villiard said Wednesday that Manning remained on "prevention of injury" and maximum-security status, which keeps him confined 23 hours a day.
Coombs has asked to have Manning's status changed to medium security, would allow him to keep personal items in his cell, move outside his cell without restraints and perform jobs within the brig.
Marine officials have declined to discuss the specific reasons for the suicide-watch order, except to say that Manning's behavior raised concern.
Villiard said Averhart was justified in placing Manning on suicide watch because "the Marine commander has a responsibility to make sure these detainees are safe, secure and able to stand trial."
The brig psychiatrist will meet with Manning this week and make a recommendation on his status. Barnes, the new brig commander, will make the final decision.