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Military defends putting Wikileaks suspect on suicide watch

From Chris Lawrence, CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Marine commander has right to decide if suspect is suicidal, Quantico official says
  • Manning's status upgraded after his lawyer files complaint

Washington (CNN) -- A Quantico official says a U.S. Marine commander did not violate procedure when he placed Private Bradley Manning on "suicide watch" last week.

"The brig commander has the ultimate responsibility to determine what status a detainee is given. He based the decision on information from psychological professionals, the medical staff and the Marine guards who are interacting with him around the clock. The commander was absolutely within his right. Not just his right, his responsibility," said Lieutenant Brian Villiard.

Manning is facing eight counts of violating the U.S. criminal code for allegedly leaking the video. He is also believed to be the prime suspect in the latest leak of scores of documents to WikiLeaks.org. It was the largest ever intelligence leak in American history.

Brig Commander James Averhart ordered last week Manning be placed on suicide watch, in which most clothes and possessions are removed.

Manning's lawyer, David Coombs, formally objected to Manning's treatment, filing an Article 138 complaint last week.

"He was stripped of all clothing with the exception of his underwear. His prescription eyeglasses were taken away from him," Coombs wrote in a blog entry about the complaint filing. "He was forced to sit in essential blindness with the exception of the times that he was reading or given limited television privileges. During those times, his glasses were returned to him."

Manning was taken off suicide watch after 2 1/2 days, after a review of the situation by the Army Staff Judge Advocate's office, according to Coombs.

Villiard says Manning was on a prevention of injury order up until last week, when Averhart elevated his status to suicide watch.

"I can't discuss the details of why the brig commander changed his status, but it boils down to: if the guards or anyone who advises the commander notices an anomaly -- something that raises an eyebrow -- appropriate actions have to be taken," Villiard said.

Under his current status, Manning is provided extra supervision compared to a regular detainee. He is allowed to have all his clothes and items like reading glasses. But he is only allowed to have one book or magazine at a time.

Villiard says just because Manning is classified this way, it doesn't mean he has no access to his other possessions -- but he has to ask for them. All the cells at Quantico are designed for one person, and Manning is being held in a regular cell.

No detainee can see another detainee from their cell. There is a special "solitary confinement" area of the Quantico brig for punitive actions, but Manning is not being held there.

Manning and other detainees are allowed one hour of exercise and one hour of television per day, although Villiard says they're sometimes allowed to go over that time limit. All exercise has to be supervised by guards, and no prisoners are allowed to exercise in their cells. The brig is a pretrial confinement facility, so most of its detainees are transient.

Villiard says sometimes there are only a handful of detainees, and at other times "quite a few." He did not confirm whether Manning is the longest-tenured detainee at the brig.

 
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