Transcript: Remarks by CCR President Michael Ratner on Bradley Manning’s pre-trial treatment in Quantico

Transcribed & edited by Jenny Jiang

Transcript of remarks by Michael Ratner, human right attorney and President of the Center for Constitutional Rights, at the Bradley Manning Support Network event in Washington, D.C. on Dec. 3, 2012:

Well, it’s just remarkable to be here and see the work that the support committee for Bradley Manning has been able to do.

You know, when they began, there was very little support, very little about Bradley Manning. And now, all of a sudden, really, due to their hard work – and they need more hard work by people – we’re seeing a lot of support for Bradley Manning.

Again, the website: Go there and give them your support.

You know, I spent a very, very rough 10 days recently. What I did was visit people who the United States is oppressing because of their truth-telling – oppressing truth-tellers because it doesn’t want the truth of U.S. corruption, criminality, and hypocrisy coming out.

I spent a few days at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London with Julian Assange, who of course had gotten political asylum but cannot leave that embassy. Otherwise, he will be taken – I am sure – to the United States, where he will very likely face a life sentence, if not worse, and certainly the conditions that Bradley Manning has had to live through.

I then went to the bail hearing for Jeremy Hammond. Jeremy Hammond is the young man who allegedly revealed the Stratfor emails. I sat in a courtroom where a judge denied Jeremy Hammond jail – denied him bail and said he is facing 39.5 years to life in prison.

And then I went to the most devastating hearing of a day in a courtroom I have ever sat through and that was when David Coombs examined Bradley Manning on the witness stand at Fort Meade.

And I’ll talk briefly about that. I want to say a couple of things.

One is David Coombs has done an extraordinary job for Bradley Manning, and we should applaud that.

I’ve told David that I’ve seen some of the best lawyers in the country – some of them found in my office Bill Kunstler, Lenny Weinglass, Morty Stavis and others. And David can certainly be credited as equal or better than those lawyers. It was really amazing to be in that court room.

I also want to thank the journalists who’ve been covering the Bradley Manning Case. I’m sure I’m going to miss some and I’m not going to say last names so you can take whatever – Kevin, Alexa, Nathan, Adam, Chase, Josh. And you know one name you won’t hear on that list? The New York Times.

What you see there is journalists covering a trial that is very difficult to cover, and you don’t see the major media covering that trial. You see these journalists go there every day and – it’s hard. It’s hard to hear sometimes. You get no access to any of the court documents, except the defense documents, which David Coombs has been able to put up. None of the court orders, none of the motions filed, nothing.

And I’m a lawyer and I sit in that courtroom and it seems like a completely secret proceeding to me because I can’t understand what’s going on and I’m a lawyer.

And the Center, as a result – the place where I work – the Center for Constitutional Rights has brought a lawsuit on behalf of a number of these journalists to say, “What is this? Not a public trial? Shouldn’t we have access to these court documents?” And so far, through the military system, we have lost. I expect that ultimately we will win because the First Amendment does not stop at the door to Bradley Manning’s trial.

But it’s been – they’re extraordinary and that’s the only way we cannot go to every day of this trial learn about that trial.

As Emma said, we are covering, really, one of the most important trials probably in the last decades. This is a person – Bradley Manning – who allegedly released Cablegate, the Iraq war logs, the Afghan war logs.

What we hear about in the press is really more character assassination of Bradley Manning than the results of what he allegedly did.

Tunisia has thanked WikiLeaks for using the documents that Bradley Manning allegedly uploaded to them to begin the Arab Spring.

The secret war that the United States is fighting in Yemen brought out by these documents.

And I could go on and on. But one thing you don’t see in the press at all is the good – the truth – that has come out of these documents.

I’ve been to various hearings over the last few months where Bradley Manning has sat at the table with his lawyer. And you have to understand, if you haven’t been there, you should get there because first you have to get yourself into Fort Meade, then you get into a small, windowless courtroom where you could almost reach out and touch Bradley Manning sitting at the table.

He’s almost spoken not at all. Just gets asked an occasional question – David Coombs his lawyer, etcetera. He has 3 or 4 syllables at the most.

This time, I went on Thursday in the hopes that I would actually hear Bradley Manning speak and take the witness stand. You walk into the court room and the first thing that happens is the judge reads an order – this was an order about potential guilty plea to some lower charges. The judge reads it quickly, mentions a lot of statutes, and you have your journalists scrambling to trying to take notes, figure out the statutes and what’s going on because we can’t even get a copy of the judge’s order.

After the judge does this, the first witness comes up and it’s a psychologist, who’s at Walter Reed but was one of the psychologists or psychiatrists who treated Bradley Manning. The essence of his testimony was pretty straightforward and pretty simple: It’s that he did not think that Bradley Manning should be on suicide risk watch or on preventive injury watch, that he should not be treated as those people are treated and even worse.

And when he gave that recommendation repeatedly to the head of the Brig at Quantico – when he gave that repeatedly, he was rebuffed and Bradley Manning was kept in the conditions that most of you are familiar with.

He was the first witness.

Then we go – then there was another witness who was at Leavenworth, where Bradley Manning was eventually sent. And the key question to me that David asked was how long is someone normally kept on a suicide risk watch? She said, “48 to 72 hours.” We’re talking here with Bradley Manning of 9 months in Quantico. Inexcusable.

As soon as Bradley Manning was sent to Leavenworth, he was immediately put to general population. Immediately. So it just tells you something about how he was treated at Quantico.

But to me the most moving thing was after lunch. We go to lunch and we have to rush lunch. We ate at a Subway or something nearby. Those of us that can eat because I didn’t have to take notes like the journalists who were writing away using their computers for the first time to Tweet people.

But we come back into the court room and we’re all sitting there and the court room can hold 40 people, and David Coombs says, “Bradley Manning, will you take the stand?” Well, there was dead silence in the room. It was a moment we all been expecting at some point but didn’t know when it would happen.

And there you see Bradley Manning looking really, really well – I mean – in a dress blue uniform, white shirt and a tie, glasses. And he walks up and he takes the witness stand.

And David starts off by saying, “I know you’re probably a little nervous to start with. I’ll start slowly.”

Let me just say something. The Bradley Manning I saw that day was not the Bradley Manning you read about in your newspapers. It’s not the Bradley Manning whose character has been assassinated by the so-called legitimate media. It’s not the Bradley Manning who people think is a [incomprehensible audio]. It was something else all together.

The first thing I would say is it’s the most dignified testimony I’ve heard. Considering what Bradley Manning has lived through, he was incredibly dignified. He was incredibly smart, incredibly self-aware – understood where he was, what was happening to him, and did his best in a legal way to get out from under what would ultimately – what was called by the U.N. Rapporteur on Torture “cruel and inhuman and degrading treatment and possibly amounting to torture.”

David brought Bradley through a phase of his life that I didn’t know at all in terms of his detention. He talked about what happened shortly after Bradley Manning was arrested in Iraq and taken to Kuwait, and it was stunning when you heard it.

Bradley Manning said, “I was taken to Kuwait and I was put into a cage. The cage was 8 by 8 by 8. It was like an animal cage, and it was in a tent.”

And then when he was in that cage, what happens? He gets in and out on one occasion when he’s let out into a different brig but in the end, he winds up spending almost 2 months in what he described as an “animal cage.”

What time do you think he gets waken up? He gets waken up at 11 p.m. in the evening. What time did he get to go to sleep? 1 p.m. in the afternoon.

Reminds me of some of our clients at Guantanamo.

As Bradley said about that experience in the cage, “nights became days and days became nights. I started to deteriorate. It was very draining. It was insular for someone like me who’s a very social person. I was falling apart. My world, which had been a world of interests in many issues from the Gulf Oil spill to reading Richard Dawkins – my world had shrunk to the cage.”

And then he said to himself, “I’m going to die in this cage.” And he remained like that until the end of July in Kuwait.

Then, after that, he was sent to Quantico. When he was put on a plane, he didn’t know where he was going. He thought he might even be sent to Guantanamo.

And then there were two very amazing moments – and I know that time is short so I want to just say this quickly.

There was one when David Coombs had Bradley Manning get off the witness stand and actually with a ruler show the size of the cell that he was in at Quantico: 8 by 6. He showed on one wall where the bed was at, another wall where the toilet was beneath the washing bowl. And it was a cage that had, you know, lace-like squares in front of it. And across, a guard sat and then there was an observation booth. And the light was on 24 hours a day in this cage that Bradley Manning was in.

And Bradley Manning walks on the floor, takes off his jacket, puts on what’s called the “suicide smock”. The best way to describe it is a long straightjacket in which your arms are not actually bound but they’re free. And one night, of course, Bradley said his arm got stuck in it and they had to rescue him to get out.

He also – the suicide blanket he showed us and other things on the floor.

Then Bradley talked about what happened during the day and the night.

During the night, he had to face sleeping the light. If he turned away to go to sleep, they came in and woke him up and force him to face the light.

During the day, he had to stand in his cell all the time, except he could sit on his bunk as long as his feet were on the ground. He couldn’t lean against anything 8 to 10 to 12 hours a day. He was supposedly on duty.

And then, we saw a video. The video was heartbreaking. The video showed Bradley Manning being forced to take off his clothes – he’s on one side of the cage – put them in those mail slots with the tray and the guards take them on the other side. And that night, of course, after count, Bradley Manning was naked.

And from then on, during the day, all he had was his briefs and at night, he was naked and had to sleep under this rough blanket.

When I think about these things, I think about what happened to our Guantanamo detainees – what are called the “Rumsfeld detainees.” Bright lights, stress positions, no clothing, solitary. Because he was in solitary – there were no prisoners on either side of him.

Then, of course, after this, after 9 months in Quantico, no reason for this, he finally gets sent to Leavenworth and put into general population.

It was for me watching it the most devastating day I’ve spent in a court room. I was in tears from beginning to end, watching this young man having faced really some of the worst, most punitive punishment by our government and yet be able to testify with incredible, incredible dignity. There’s a reason we are here. There’s a reason we are here supporting Bradley Manning.

Thank you.




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2 Comments on “Transcript: Remarks by CCR President Michael Ratner on Bradley Manning’s pre-trial treatment in Quantico

  1. Pingback: Court Martial of Army Private First Class Bradley Manning | What The Folly?!

  2. Pingback: Transcript: Q&A with Defense Attorney David Coombs on PFC Bradley Manning | What The Folly?!

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