HAGERSTOWN, Md. – A brig commander has broken military rules and ignored the lockup's own psychiatrist with 23-hour-per-day confinement of an Army private suspected of passing classified documents to the WikiLeaks website, the soldier's lawyer said Friday.
The civilian attorney for Army Pfc. Bradley Manning said he has filed a complaint with the commander of the Quantico, Va., Marine base that includes the brig, the latest in a series of administrative moves seeking to improve jail conditions for Manning. The new complaint asks base commander Col. Daniel Choike to order Manning's pretrial custody status changed from maximum- to medium-security.
If this step fails, attorney David E. Coombs said he'll take the Marines to military court over Manning's confinement.
"Each of these steps are required steps in order to exhaust his administrative remedies," the Fall River, Mass.-based lawyer said in a phone interview.
Quantico spokesman Col. Thomas V. Johnson said the base's lawyers were looking into Coombs' complaint. He acknowledged that Manning was placed on 24-hour suicide watch for two days this week, an order reflected in the complaint. Johnson declined to comment on the reasons for that order.
Manning, who worked as an intelligence analyst in Iraq, is being held 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 of them, along with a classified video, to an unauthorized person. The video was later posted on Wikileaks.
Investigators suspect Manning is also the source of hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables and Iraq and Afghanistan war logs that WikiLeaks has published since July.
The 23-year-old Crescent, Okla., native has been in maximum custody and on either 24-hour suicide watch or rigorous injury-prevention status since July 29, when he was moved to Quantico from a detention facility in Kuwait. Military officials say they are keeping him safe and secure.
Coombs' complaint under Article 138 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice follows his fruitless requests to Choike and the brig commander to ease Manning's confinement. Military law mandates investigation of the Article 138 complaint with the outcome to be reviewed by the Navy secretary.
Coombs said the process could take months.
The United Nations also is investigating Manning's confinement in response to a complaint from a Manning supporter that he's been treated inhumanely.
Coombs' complaint contends that Chief Warrant Officer 4 James Averhart abused his discretion by placing Manning on 24-hour suicide watch from Tuesday evening to Thursday afternoon against the advice of both a brig psychiatrist and defense psychiatrist. During that time, Manning was confined to his cell wearing only his underwear, and his prescription eyeglasses were confiscated when he wasn't reading or watching television, Coombs said.
His complaint says Averhart also ignored the brig psychiatrist's recommendations Aug. 27 and for three months thereafter that Manning be taken off injury-prevention watch and be classified "medium custody in," the classification Coombs favors. Such a change would allow Manning to keep personal items in his cell, move about outside his cell without restraints and perform menial jobs within the brig.
"Obviously, that would help time go by quicker during the day," Coombs said.
Manning also could be assigned to dormitory quarters instead of a single-bed cell under the classification change.
Coombs said the only exception to the Aug. 27 recommendation came on Dec. 10, when the brig psychiatrist urged that Manning be placed on injury-prevention watch for one week.
Coombs contends that Averhart's orders violate the Navy Corrections Manual, which states that prisoners not regarded as dangerous or violent should be classified "medium custody in."
The manual also states: "Ultraconservative custody classification results in a waste of prisoner and staff manpower."
Manning is awaiting the start, probably in February, of a mental-health investigation to determine if he can stand trial. That would be followed by an Article 32 hearing, probably no sooner than May, to determine if a trial is warranted, Coombs said.