TUESDAY 27TH NOVEMBER – FORT MEADE
On Tuesday, a court hearing began to legislate the defence motion which calls for the charges against Bradley Manning to be dropped (or at least that sentencing be credited) on account of the punitive treatment meted out to him at Quantico Brig.
THE US MILITARY HAS BEEN ON TRIAL HERE THIS WEEK
Julian Assange, being interviewed as the new book he has co-authored - Cypherpunks: Freedom and the Future of the Internet -is published, pointed out several times to different audiences, that it is not, in fact, Bradley Manning who is on trial in this hearing, but the US military.
And, finally, on Thursday, Bradley himself took the stand to testify for the first time in his already two and a half year pretrial detention.
A ‘PARTICULAR’ TYPE OF PERSON
It may be presumptuous, but, after ‘living with’ Brad for all these months, I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels a sense of closeness to him as a person.
Poring over chat logs, picking up insights from such sources as were available to us, piecing together the sequence of events and dissecting the ‘documents in the case’ all seemed to build an image of a ‘particular’ type of person, a person who began to feel very dear and very heroic; a person whose face and expressions were indelibly imprinted on our psyche over the months going into years.
REPORTS FROM QUANTICO
At the end of 2010/beginning of 2011, we would avidly wait on any news of how Bradley was doing from David House’s visits to the Brig, and updates from David Coombs’ blog on the conditions of his confinement. We wrote letters, thought of him a lot.
DAVID COOMBS, BRADLEY’S LAWYER
I remember the shift in David Coombs’ tone as he seemed to take on board how toxic and entrenched was the stuff he was up against, and how the posts went up a gear from measured to cutting and then up again as he plainly became absolutely incensed at how Bradley was being treated.
How he slammed back at Geoff Morell, Pentagon spokesman, for telling the press (and therefore the public) that Bradley was being treated like ‘any other prisoner’ at the Brig.
And how there was a strong sense that David Coombs ‘cared’ about Brad, too, which seemed to be reinforced by a comment from Rainey Reitman in her report on Brad’s Article 32 hearing:
‘Manning was then asked a series of other questions about whether he understood his rights and other administrative matters, to which he offered affirmative, respectful responses.
His voice was unchanged except when questioned about his legal team and whether he was satisfied with his current legal representation. His answer again was “Yes, sir,” but here his voice changed in tone, adding emphasis and depth.’
and later, again, when Brad’s aunt was interviewed by the Guardian in May and said:
”Bradley has tremendous confidence in David Coombs,”
with the Guardian explaining:
‘Manning and Coombs speak at least once a week, and spend hours together discussing legal strategy when the soldier is brought to the Washington area ahead of pre-trial hearings.’
QUANTICO BRIG: MARCH 2011
And we were especially drawn in, of course, to those days at the beginning of March 2011 when we just couldn’t believe what we were reading, about how Bradley was now being subjected to yet more abuse at Quantico, and how incredibly blatant it was. As though the authorities thought they really were insuperable.
BUT NOT CRUSHED
And all through there were people talking about how poor Bradley couldn’t survive, he was such a ‘damaged’ individual etc, so weak and fragile, (fears no doubt fuelled by what Julian called the media ‘pathologising’ him), and, along with many others, I just kept thinking – I know it’s absolutely awful what he is going through, but I really don’t buy this ‘victim’ thing, somehow……
And then we got the explanation of what had happened the day Denise Barnes had ordered that Brad be stripped; of how:
‘In response to PFC Manning’s question, he was told that there was nothing he could do to downgrade his detainee status and that the Brig simply considered him a risk of self-harm.’
and the news that Brad had responded sarcastically (with wit, to boot!):
‘PFC Manning then remarked that the POI restrictions were “absurd” and sarcastically stated that if he wanted to harm himself, he could conceivably do so with the elastic waistband of his underwear or with his flip-flops.’
and we were just punching the air to hear it! There was spirit there!
And it was small insights such as this that really helped to sustain that image of Brad as someone who knew what he was about, someone whose spirit had great strength.
‘YOU (YES, EVEN YOU, MR AVERHART!) STILL HAVE TO FOLLOW PROCEDURES…’
‘After being returned to my cell, I started to read a book. About 30 minutes later, the PCF Commander, CW4 James Averhart, came to my cell. He asked me what had happened during my recreation call. As I tried to explain to him what had occurred, CW4 Averhart stopped me and said “I am the commander” and that “no one could tell him what to do.”
He also said that he was, for all practical purposes, “God.” ‘ (!!)
And Brad responds:
‘I responded by saying: ”you still have to follow Brig procedures.”
I also said: “everyone has a boss that they have to answer to.”‘
And this is not long after he’s been deliberately jerked around by four burly marines screaming contradictary instructions at him – so much so that he has a panic attack, and yet he’s STILL got the guts to respond like that! Amazing!
But with immediate and clearly punitive consequences that illustrate so well the ‘illegal pretrial punishment’ that Bradley is in court to testify to:
‘As soon as I said this, CW4 Averhart ordered that I be placed in Suicide Risk Status.’ (meaning that he was immediately stripped, had his glasses removed, and remained in his cell naked for 48 hours).
But the strength of it just shines right through, doesn’t it?
‘DECIDING TO BE STRONG’
So, when one of the psychiatric team (Hocter) took the witness stand and we heard what he said about how Brad coped with his dreadful conditions:
‘Despite the unprecedented conditions that Manning was held under, Hoctor said the detainee coped quite well. “Most people would have found it very difficult, being watched every five minutes, but he did better than expected - I think he decided he was going to be strong.”‘
it really came as no surprise. Wonderful to hear from the psychiatrist who obviously warmed to Brad, but still not unexpected….
THE WITNESS BOX
But, the witness box; how would he bear up in the witness box? That would be a huge challenge for anyone, surely? We were quite prepared to make allowances. Did we need to? Well, NO worries there – by all accounts, Bradley seemed to be absolutely in his natural element. And everyone was pretty knocked out by him, in fact.
(except the BBCs account, which said he
‘seemed nervous, swivelling in his chair and stuttering as he testified’ )
Actually, someone on Twitter agreed that he ’swivelled his chair’ but gave a completely different picture:
‘Bradley #Manning on the witness stand: swivels in his chair, smiling, chatty.’
And who needs BBC reports when the tweets are coming thick and fast and beautiful! Talking about his sincerity, his energy, his lovely smile. For supporters were elated by everything about Brad on Thursday; how he conducted himself in the witness box, and the way that his integrity was plain for all to see.
And, apart from hearing from his aunt in May of this year in an interview with the Guardian, that Brad:
‘…is keeping himself in a relatively positive state of mind, buoyed by trust in his lawyers and the support of close family and backers from around the world.’,
we’ve waited an awful long time to have what we always knew confirmed: that Brad, as Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights (and one of Julian’s legal team), put it, is:
‘…dignified, articulate, smart and self-aware.’
Michael Ratner also told us that Brad’s
‘incredible sincerity and strength was visible to all.’
Here’s some tweets:
‘Amazing to hear#Manning. Solid voice. Matter of fact. A kind smile, which he uses a lot. And earnest.’ (@Carwinb – Alexa O’Brien)
‘Bradley Manning is smiling & energetic while giving testimony. Very intelligent. Really great to hear from him finally’ (@kgosztola – Kevin Gosztola)
‘He is REALLY like able. You would LIKE #Manning’ (@Carwinb)
‘#Manning such an extraordinary young man’
‘I am overcome by the young man I saw on the stand today: respectful, funny, intelligence, and rational.’
‘Bradley #Manning is funny and charming (and even disarming to even MAJ Fein USG prosecutor.) Earnest is the best word, and confident too.’
‘MAJ Fein the lead prosecutor was even smiling at #Manning and his answers.’
SEE END OF POST FOR LINK TO MORE……………
HUMOUR (EVEN ON A GRIM DAY IN COURT)
He made people laugh:
“It wasn’t the ideal environment in Quantico,” Manning said to chuckles around the court.
#Manning was asked about playing peekaboo in the mirror. He said, “the most entertaining thing in there was the mirror.” People laughed. (@cellhassani)
‘The most entertaining thing in my cell was the mirror. You can interact with yourself. I spent a lot of time with it’ (@Edpilkington)
He demonstrated how he was tongue in cheek with the guards:
‘he would stand to attention by the front bars of the cell and shout out to the observation guards: “Lance Corporal Detainee Manning requests toilet paper!”
A DEMONSTRATION OF QUANTICO CONDITIONS (thanks to Art Superheroes for court art)
The outline of his 8′ x 6′ cell was drawn to scale on the floor, showing the position of the toilet etc, and the suicide mattress, rough blanket, and smock were all there for Bradley to use as he showed the court what went down at Quantico. He was described as animated and engaged.
David Coombs got Bradley down from the stand and he stood in the ‘cell’ outline to explain it all in great detail, to tell the whole grievous story of the conditions he was forced to endure from his arrest and transportation to Kuwait, and on to the Brig, and, with the skill of the gifted communicator, he
‘painted a picture of a Kafkaesque world into which he was sucked and in which he would languish for almost one excruciating year..’
He wryly explained, as he described the cell at Quantico, having referred to his being ‘a fan of sunshine’ ‘not…winter’:
“If you took your head and put it on the cell door and looked through the crack, you could see down the hall the reflection of the window,”
“there was a skylight. You could see the reflection of the reflection of it if you angled your face on the door of the cell.”
Brad described how (with great ingenuity we thought!) he ‘got round’ the ‘no exercise’ rule; he ‘danced’! Because, though ‘exercise was ‘against the rules, ’dancing’ wasn’t.
CRUEL AND DEGRADING TREATMENT
At one point a video was shown of his being in his cell, clothed only in his boxer shorts, meeting with Sgt Blennis, his counsellor; an official who, we discovered, was cruelly pretending to be sympathetic and gaining his trust under false pretences, whilst actually lying to him to make him think that his psychiatric team were responsible for keeping him under such restrictive conditions. This was very sad because Brad DID trust him.
Although all this testimony was about cruelty, humiliation and suffering, and it could have been really grim, and people said it was intensely moving and traumatic; actually, the abiding impression from Thursday’s proceedings is that of an inspirational, grounded and genial human being who is 100% his *own* person, who has ‘decided to be strong’, who has determined to see the whole disgusting thing through with grace and humour. Fortitude. Faithfulness. Spring to mind.
A while ago I wrote a poem about Brad, and, with reference to what we were (and are) calling for, titled it FREE BRADLEY MANNING!…..except, and this was the point of the poem, I changed the punctuation, so it read:
FREE: BRADLEY MANNING
and, though he’s actually in prison; one of the things that came across loud and clear again to me from the court room this week, was that that is manifestly what Brad is. Free.
THE HEARING CONTINUES WEDS
The hearing has gone over time and will now continue next week, from 5th Dec to either the 7th or 9th depending on how long it takes. This also puts the trial diary back because the ‘speedy trial hearing’ between 10th Dec and 14th Dec, is now CANCELLED and will be rescheduled.
*PLEASE SEE THE FOLLOWING FOR MORE INFO AND REPORTS DIRECTLY FROM THE HEARING
Full reports from each day of hearing – started 27th Nov 2012 from Kevin Gosztola at Firedoglake
Full reports from each day of hearing – from 27th November at Bradley Manning Support Network (see ‘featured’)
Report on ‘kafkaesque’ conditions of detainment from Guardian from 29th November here