WikiLeaks leaker mistreated in custody: Lawyer


Washington : The 23-year-old US soldier who is alleged to have leaked thousands of secret documents to whistle-blower WikiLeaks was placed on suicide watch, stripped to his underwear and forced to stay in his cell round the clock, his lawyer has said.

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The lawyer of US Army private Bradley Manning is accusing military authorities of using punitive measures against the soldier at the Quantico Marine Corps base in Virginia.

Manning was placed on suicide watch for two days this week – against the recommendation of the jail’s forensic psychiatrist, attorney David E. Coombs was quoted as saying by the Washington Post Saturday.

During this time, Manning was forced to stay in his cell round the clock, stripped to his underwear. His prescription eyeglasses were taken from him, except for the hour of television he is allowed to watch or when he was reading, the lawyer said.

The UN special rapporteur on torture said he has submitted to the State Department a formal inquiry about Manning’s treatment.

The liberal website says a petition urging that Manning be treated humanely will be delivered this weekend to Quantico marine base; its site founder says that the petition has drawn more than 30,000 signatures.

On Wednesday, Coombs filed a complaint alleging that the commander of the detention facility abused his discretion by placing Manning on suicide watch.

The commander Brig. James Averhart had determined that the 23-year-old was a suicide risk, Coombs said. But after the Army Staff Judge Advocate’s office urged him to reconsider the designation, Averhart removed the suicide watch Thursday and restored Manning to “prevention of injury” watch. Manning is also being held under maximum custody, which has its own set of rules.

A Quantico marine base spokesman, First Lt. Scott Villiard, said that he did not know why Averhart recommended the suicide watch, but that the determination was “based on input from more than one person.” That included medical professionals, mental health professionals and the Marine guards who watch detainees, he said.

Averhart “has a responsibility to make sure that these detainees are safe, secure and make it to trial,” Villiard said.

Coombs said he will file a motion alleging that the conditions of Manning’s confinement amount to unlawful pre-trial punishment, in violation of Article 13 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

“The most important thing is that we’re not treating Private Manning any differently from anyone else that would be in the same classification,” Villiard said. “Whether it’s maximum custody or prevention of injury, he’s being treated the same as anybody else.”

David House, a Boston computer researcher who has regularly visited Manning, said in a blog posting last month that Manning told him that he had not been outside for recreation or exercise in four weeks.

Villiard said Manning was placed in maximum custody because authorities determined that his escape “could pose risk to life, property or national security”.