US officers overseeing the detention of WikiLeaks suspect Bradley Manning joked about guards forcing him to strip every night, invoking a Dr Seuss verse, a witness has said.
Colonel Robert Oltman, one of two officers managing the brig where Manning was held for nine months, on Wednesday acknowledged receiving an email from a military lawyer who used a Dr Seuss poem to make light of how the accused was forced to remove his underwear every night in his cell.
The nightly nudity was enforced after Manning told a guard that if he wanted to kill himself, he could hang himself with the waistband of his underwear.
Defence attorney David Coombs, who suggested Manning was commenting on the absurdity of his situation, said his client was subject to cruel and illegal treatment at the brig at Quantico, Virginia.
Coombs read aloud the email sent by a military lawyer to Oltman, which offered a new version of the famous children’s poem:
“I can wear them in a box, I can wear them with a fox, I can wear them in the day, I can wear them so I say, But I can’t wear them at night, My comments gave the staff a fright.”
Oltman admitted replying with: “Sam I am.”
The Marine officer said he found the reference to Dr Seuss entertaining but when asked by Coombs if Manning’s treatment was a joking matter, he told the court: “No it was not. It was a very serious issue.”
Manning was locked up alone for at least 23 hours a day, forced to sleep naked for several nights and forced to stand naked at attention one morning, his lawyers say.
Maximum custody ‘indefinitely’
Manning was held at Quantico for nine months, from July 2010 to April 2011. He was designated a “maximum custody” detainee and considered at risk of either suicide or harming himself or others.
Oltman and others have testified that psychiatrists who examined Manning at the Marine brig repeatedly recommended that his conditions be eased.
But Oltman said he was sceptical about at least one of those recommendations because another detainee had killed himself in December 2009 after his custody status was reduced based on the advice of Navy Capt. 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 defence attorney David Coombs.
Oltman acknowledged 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 that he will remain on this status indefinitely.”
A UN rapporteur on torture concluded Manning was subjected to cruel and inhumane treatment at the Quantico brig.
After his detention at Quantico, Manning was later transferred to a prison at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, where he faces less strict conditions.
Manning is asking a military judge to dismiss his case due to his alleged illegal treatment during his pre-trial confinement at Quantico.
Earlier in November, Manning offered to plead guilty to some, but not all, of the charges he faces in a pending court-martial, said Coombs.
The materials Manning is suspected of leaking include sensitive reports on foreign governments and leaders and a 2007 video clip of a US helicopter crew gunning down 11 men, including a Reuters news photographer and his driver. The video drew worldwide attention.
The Pentagon concluded the troops acted appropriately during the attack, having mistaken the camera equipment for weapons.