Two of WikiLeaks suspect Bradley Manning’s former prison guards have denied abusing him in custody and have described an incident where the US Army private burst into tears.
Manning, 24, is accused of providing Internet site WikiLeaks with hundreds of thousands of US diplomatic cables and classified war logs from Afghanistan and Iraq while based in Baghdad as a military intelligence analyst in 2009 and 2010.
If convicted, he could face life in prison.
The soldier’s defense team argues that the case should be dismissed because of the unduly harsh treatment he received in custody.
However, on the fifth day of a pre-trial hearing at Fort Meade military base near Washington, the prosecution maintained the military acted appropriately, gathering evidence from his former guards by telephone.
Joshua Tankersly and Jonathan Cline on Saturday said that when they went to escort Manning to a fitness room at US Marine Corps Brig, Quantico, on Jan. 18 last year, the detainee broke down under their watch.
For hours the day before, dozens of demonstrators had blocked access to Quantico to protest against the conditions of Manning’s detention, which a UN rapporteur on torture has concluded amounted to cruel and inhumane treatment.
The guards described what happened when they attempted to put restraints on Manning in the exercise room:
“Detainee Manning was instructed to spread his feet,” while they shackled his hands, and “turn around, while we put [on] the belt, and kneel while we put the legs restraints,” Cline said, adding that the soldier had to be “corrected” because he was “moving his hands when we put on his restraints.”
Tankersly said that when “we put him in restraints, he did not respond in a correct manner,” saying that he twice told Manning to “stop moving.”
When they took off the restraints, he began moving again.
“He fell down on his butt. We tried to catch him, [but] he went hiding behind a weight machine and he began to cry,” Cline said.
“It happened really fast,” the former guard said, adding that he did not understand why he was subsequently suspended for having “intimidated” Manning.
Asked by Manning’s civilian defense attorney, David Coombs, neither guard remembered hearing Manning say “I’m sorry” as he cried. Nor did either remember if Manning was treated differently that day after the demonstration.
However, Cline did say that prison staff were “annoyed” because as a result of the protests in front of the main gate, the staff needed to go through a different gate to go home.
Cline, who lived on the base and did not need to leave except to go grocery shopping, told US Judge Denise Lind that he did not feel any “personal anger” toward Manning after the protest.
The two guards also testified that Manning had always been “respectful” and “compliant,” adding that “he was like an average detainee,” and that other than during the fitness center incident he never tried to escape, attack anyone or hurt himself.
“I spoke to him basically like to a normal human being. They’re in the facility, that’s their punishment. They don’t need to be screamed at or yelled at,” Cline said.
However, Tankersly admitted that Manning was allotted only a “20-minute sunshine call” each day and if he used it, the time was deducted from his one hour of authorized exercise time — which was the only time he was allowed to leave his cell.
US Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant William Fuller, a supervisor at Quantico, said that after the gym incident Manning was “shaken pretty bad.”
“He looked scared to me, he wasn’t smiley,” Fuller told the court. “He had a hard time breathing, kind of ... panicking, he kept apologizing, I didn’t figure out why he was sorry. I think he was frustrated with the staff in some way.”
However, Fuller said the measures taken with Manning were “not punitive, it’s protection for the detainee.”
“I considered him as suicidal,” Fuller said of Manning, who is due to go on trial in February next year.
During his appearance on Thursday, Manning recalled his first days in a tiny cell at a US military base in Kuwait in the summer of 2010, saying he thought he would never leave that cell alive.
“I thought I was going to die in that cage,” he said. “And that’s how I saw it, as an animal cage.”