(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Yesterday, December 16, 2011, 40 supporters of Bradley Manning saw him in person in the military courtroom at Fort Meade, Maryland and another 60 saw him on a video feed from the court -- the first time Manning has been seen by the public in 19 months. More than 100 other supporters, including 50 from Occupy Wall Street who had bused down from New York City, were at the front gates of Fort Meade in solidarity with Manning.
Hundreds of supporters will gather today, Saturday, December 17, for a large rally and march.
For his first court appearance, Bradley was in what looked to be a new military uniform and typically military, he had a fresh haircut. He was not in shackles in the courtroom, but it appeared in a photo that he was shackled in the van that brought him to the court. Manning talked freely with his civilian defense counsel and his two military legal counsels.
He did not turn around and look at the people in the court, but as he was brought in and taken out during the various recesses of the court, he no doubt noticed supporters in Bradley Manning T-shirts.
Bradley Manning has been imprisoned for 19 months, since May, 2010, without a trial. Yesterday, December 16, 2011, an Article 32 hearing began at Fort Meade, Maryland, in which an investigating officer will determine whether there is sufficient evidence of the crimes with which the military has charged him for the case to be referred to a General court-martial.
In July, 2010, Manning was charged with transferring classified information onto his personal computer and communicating national defense information to an unauthorized source. In March 2011, 22 more crimes were charged, including "aiding the enemy," which is a capital offense. Defense Department prosecutors said they would not seek the death penalty. In April, 2011, Manning was found fit to face a court martial.
Defense Challenges Impartiality of Investigating Officer
Yesterday, Manning's civilian lawyer, David Coombs, challenged the impartiality of investigating officer US Army Reserve Lieutenant Colonel Paul Almanza, citing Almanza's civilian employment as a lawyer in the Department of Justice which has conducted investigations on Manning, Julian Assange and Wikileaks. The defense team had requested that 38 witnesses be allowed to testify in the Article 32 hearing. Coombs also said that the decision of Almanza to allow only two defense witnesses other than the 10 allowed for the prosecution demonstrated a bias by Almanza.
Coombs told Almanza, "That simple fact alone, without anything else, would cause a reasonable person to say, "I question your impartiality." However, stating that his office of child exploitation in the Department of Justice had nothing to do with the Wikileaks investigation or with national security issues, Almanza denied Coombs' request for recusal.
Almanza told Coombs and Manning, "I do not believe a reasonable person, knowing all the circumstances, would be led to the conclusion that my impartiality would be reasonably questioned. I thus deny the defense request to recuse myself."
After that, Coombs filed a writ with the Army Court of Criminal Appeals to stay the proceedings until a decision can be made on whether Almanza should continue to preside. According to military law experts, the hearing can proceed while the appeals court makes its determination.
Manning under harsh imprisonment at Quantico reeked of intimidation and retaliation
The military's treatment of Manning has reeked of intimidation and retaliation.
Until citizen activist protests six months ago in March 2011 brought sufficient attention to the harsh conditions of Manning's pre-trial confinement, the US military was treating him as if he were beyond the scrutiny of the law -- as if he were an "enemy combatant" in Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib.
Amnesty International and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture expressed great concern about the conditions under which Manning was being held -- in a maximum-security, single-occupancy cell; placed on a prevention-of-injury order and allowed to wear only a suicide-proof smock at night.