FORT MEADE, Md. — An Army private accused of sending reams of classified US documents to the secret-spilling website WikiLeaks was kept in tight pretrial confinement partly because another prisoner had recently committed suicide, the former security chief at the Quantico, Va., Marine Corps base testified Wednesday.
Marine Colonel Robert Oltman appeared as a witness on the second day of a pretrial hearing for Private First Class Bradley Manning, who is seeking dismissal of all charges, claiming his confinement in the Quantico brig amounted to illegal punishment.
Oltman and others have testified that psychiatrists who examined Manning, 24, at Quantico repeatedly recommended his conditions be eased. But Oltman, whose command included the brig, said he was skeptical about at least one recommendation because another detainee had killed himself in December 2009, after his custody status was reduced based upon the advice of the same doctor, Navy Captain William Hochter, the psychiatrist assigned to the brig.
‘‘He didn’t have the strongest credibility with me with regards to his recommendations,’’ Oltman said under questioning by civilian defense attorney David Coombs.
Manning was held at Quantico for nine months, from July 2010 to April 2011, when he was moved to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Throughout his time at Quantico, he was designated a ‘‘maximum custody’’ detainee and considered at risk of either suicide or harming himself or others. He was locked up alone for at least 23 hours a day, forced to sleep naked for several nights, and required to stand naked at attention one morning, his lawyers assert.
At Fort Leavenworth, Manning was reevaluated and given a medium-security classification.
Oltman said he told Hochter in January 2011, that Manning would remain on ‘‘prevention of injury’’ status unless senior officers decided otherwise.
Oltman said he told Hochter: ‘‘Nothing’s going to change. He won’t be able to hurt himself. He’s not going to be able to get away, and our way of ensuring this is he’ll remain on this status indefinitely.’’
On cross-examination by prosecutor Major Ashden Fein, Oltman said that neither he nor any senior officers ever made decisions regarding Manning’s custody classification. Those decisions were made by the brig commander, Oltman said.
One of the security measures was the removal of Manning’s underwear at night, starting March 2, 2011, after he told a guard that if he wanted to kill himself, he could hang himself with the waistband.
Manning faces possible life imprisonment if convicted of aiding the enemy, the most serious of the 22 charges he faces. He is accused of sending hundreds of thousands of classified Iraq and Afghanistan war logs and more than 250,000 diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks.