Oltman in secret highlevel Quantico meeting re Manning’s illegal pretrial confinement

This month new and incriminating details have come to light about a secret meeting of high-level Quantico officials that took place on January 13, 2011, resulting in Manning's illegal punitive pretrial confinement.

Col. Daniel J. Choike, former Marine Corp Base Quantico Commander

Col. Daniel J. Choike, former Marine Corp Base Quantico Commander

On March 2, 2011, Pfc. Manning, then confined under Maximum custody and Prevention of Injury Watch (POI) at Quantico, where he had been since July 29, 2010, was told that his Article 138 request to be placed under Medium custody and removed from harsh and punitive pretrial confinement was denied by Daniel J. Choike, Quantico base commander.

The continued placement of Manning under such terms and conditions, indeed the exacerbation of his illegal pretrial confinement in March, when he was stripped every evening and forced to stand at attention naked every morning until his unexpected transfer to Fort Leavenworth on April 20, 2011, happened despite numerous cited evaluations by brig personnel, including brig psychiatrists, who recommended his removal from Maximum Custody and POI Status.

Defense had filed the original Article 138 request on January 19, 2011, one day after Manning was placed under "suicide risk", which resulted in his remaining in his cell for 24 hours a day and being stripped of all clothing with the exception of his underwear. His eyeglasses were also removed, which left him, as he describes in "total blindness". According to defense documents, the stripping and interrogation that Manning endured was videotaped by the Quantico facility.

Manning recounts his harassment and placement under "suicide risk" the day after a January protest was held outside Quantico here.

Col. Robert Oltman, Security Battalion Commander, Quantico

Col. Robert Oltman, Security Battalion Commander, Quantico

On April 19, a day before Manning's unexpected transfer to Fort Leavenworth, defense reported finding out about a January 13, 2011 secret high-level meeting, and suspected their knowledge of the meeting may have led to the Department of Defenses' about-face on Manning's illegal pretrial confinement:

"The defense recently received reliable reports of a private meeting held on 13 January 2011, involving high-level Quantico officials where it was ordered that Pfc. Manning would remain in maximum custody and under prevention of injury watch indefinitely. The order to keep Pfc. Manning under these unduly harsh conditions was issued by a senior Quantico official who stated he would not risk anything happening "on his watch." When challenged by a Brig psychiatrist present at the meeting that there was no mental health justification for the decision, the senior Quantico official issuing the order responded, "We will do whatever we want to do." Based upon these statements and others, the defense was in the process of filing a writ of habeas corpus seeking a court ruling that the Quantico Brig violated Pfc. Manning's constitutional right to due process. See United States ex. rel. Accardi v. Shaughnessy, 74 S.Ct. 499 (1954) (violation of due process where result of board proceeding was predetermined); United States v. Anderson, 49 M.J. 575 (N.M. Ct. Crim. App. 1998) (illegal punishment where Marine Corps had an unwritten policy automatically placing certain detainees in MAX custody). The facts surrounding Pfc. Manning's pretrial confinement at Quantico make it clear that his detention was not "in compliance with legal and regulatory standards in all respects" [link added] as maintained at the Pentagon press briefing. (Source: David Coombs, Why Was Pfc. Manning Moved to Fort Leavenworth?)

Earlier this month Manning's defense had submitted a list of witnesses they requested for the Article 32 pretrial hearing that concluded last week. Further details about the secret high-level meeting and the former Security Battalion Commander in charge of Quantico, Col. Robert G. Oltman, were contained under witness 46:

XXXXXXXXXX He will testify that during a meeting early in January of 2011, the [former] Security Battalion Commander in charge of the Quantico Brig. XXXXXXXXXX [ Col. Robert G. Oltman], clearly stated to the Brig Staff that, "I will not have anything happen to Manning on my watch... So, nothing is going to change... He won't be able to hurt himself and he won't be able to get away, and our way of making sure of that is that he will remain on Maximum Custody and POI indefinitely." He will testify that one of the other Brig psychiatrists, XXXXXXXXXX then said, "You know Sir, I am concerned because if you are going to do that, maybe you want to call it something else because it is not based upon anything from behavioral health." In response, XXXXXXXXXX will testify that XXXXXXXXXX said, "We will do whatever we want to do. You make a recommendation and then I have to make a decision based upon everything else." XXXXXXXXXX will testify that XXXXXXXXXX then said "Well then don't say it is based upon mental health. You can say Maximum Custody, and just don't put that we [behavioral health] are somehow involved in this." XXXXXXXXXX replied, "Well, that is what we are going to do." XXXXXXXXXX will testify that he spoke with others at the Brig to see if they knew why the Brig was so heavy handed on Pfc. Manning. He will testify that the others at the Brig told him that they have never seen anything like this before. XXXXXXXXXX will testify that others told him that they were afraid to speak out about the situation given the concern of what would happen as a result of any complaint about Pfc. Manning's treatment.

Under witness 47:

XXXXXXXXXX He will testify that neither the [former] Quantico Brig Commander, XXXXXXXXXX [CW4 James Averhart ], nor the [former] Security Battalion Commander, XXXXXXXXXX [Col. Robert G. Oltman] gave him any reason for maintaining the Prevention of Injury precautions other than stating it was for Pfc. Manning's safety. He will testify that XXXXXXXXXX intimated that he was receiving instruction from a higher authority on the matter but did not say who was providing this direction. XXXXXXXXXX will testify that he knew that the higher base authorities had frequent (sometimes weekly) meetings to discuss Pfc. Manning. XXXXXXXXXX will testify that he gave weekly status reports stating that he felt the POI precautions were unnecessary. XXXXXXXXXX will testify that he recalls a meeting with XXXXXXXXXX where he stated that Pfc. Manning would remain in his current status Maximum Custody and POI unless and until he received instructions from higher authority to the contrary. XXXXXXXXXX cannot recall XXXXXXXXXX exact word, but he does recall that XXXXXXXXXX made it clear that nothing would change with Pfc. Manning regardless of his behavior of the recommendations of behavioral health.

Article 13 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice states: "No person, while being held for trial, may be subjected to punishment or penalty other than arrest or confinement upon the charges pending against him, nor shall the arrest or confinement imposed upon him be any more rigorous than the circumstances required to insure his presence, but he may be subjected to minor punishment during that period for infractions of discipline."

On his blog, David Coombs has hinted at or explicitly stated that he intends to file an Article 13 defense regarding Manning's illegal and punitive pretrial confinement at Quantico. See June 21, 2011; April 19, 2011; and December 21, 2010

CW4 James Averhart, former Quantico brig commander

CW4 James Averhart, former Quantico brig commander

On November 22, 2011, defense also filed the following request for the production of evidence of the Quantico video of Manning being stripped and interrogated:

"On January 18, 2011, defense was notified that Pfc. Manning at the direction of XXXXXXXXXX [CW4 AVERHART], was placed in suicide risk. This decision was made over the recommendations of XXXXXXXXXX [CAPT. HOCTER] and the defense appointed XXXXXXXXXX [CAPT. BRIAN MOORE]. When Pfc. Manning was being ordered to surrender his clothes as part of the unnecessary suicide risk, the Brig made the decision to videotape this event along with an interrogation of Pfc. Manning by XXXXXXXXXX and others. On 19 January 2011, the defense filed a preservation of evidence request with the government and a request for the production of the video. The government has yet to respond to the defense request. The defense believes the video will support Pfc. Manning's claim of unlawful pretrial punishment."

The names were sourced from other defense documents. See Article 138 Complaint:

"4.) On 18 January 2011, over the recommendation of Capt. Hocter and the defense psychiatrist, Capt. Brian Moore, CW4 Averhart placed me under suicide risk. The suicide risk means that I sit in my cell for 24 hours a day. I am stripped of all clothing with the exception of my underwear. My prescription eyeglasses are taken away from me. I am forced to sit in essential blindness with the exception of the times that I am reading or given limited television privileges. During those times, my glasses are returned to me. Additionally, there is a guard sitting outside my cell watching me at all times."

Further, David House says he has been asked by Manning's attorney not to make public assessments on his friend's deterioration while at Quantico.

David Coombs also requested a "[c]opy of all audio and video surveillance of the visitation booths at Quantico, Virginia when individuals, including defense team members, met with Pfc. Manning. The defense also requests a copy of all audio and video surveillance of the visitations rooms at... Fort Leavenworth when individuals including defense team members, met with Pfc. Manning."

Alexa O'Brien Alexa O'Brien researches and writes about national security and law enforcement. Her work has been published in The New York Times, VICE News, The Cairo Review of Global Affairs, Guardian (UK), The Daily Beast, NY Daily News, and featured on the BBC, PBS, NPR, Democracy Now!, and Public Radio International. She was shortlisted for the 2013 Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism in the United Kingdom and listed in The Verge 50. In 2016, she worked at The Constitution Project in Washington, D.C. as a staff researcher and writer on an independent commission studying Oklahoma's death penalty. She also provided research support to scholars of the first cost study conducted on that state's capital punishment system.