Psychiatrists Testify to WikiLeaks Suspect’s Mental State

November 28, 2012
Watch WikiSecrets, FRONTLINE’s investigation into Bradley Manning, Julian Assange and the largest intelligence breach in U.S. history, and The Private Life of Bradley Manning, a profile of the early years of the young soldier now accused of leaking more than half a million classified U.S. government documents.

FORT MEADE, MD — Two military psychiatrists who cared for Bradley Manning during his confinement at Quantico testified today that their recommendation that Manning be removed from a suicide watch was disregarded. The Army private accused of leaking more than 500,000 classified documents to WikiLeaks had been kept in solitary confinement more than 23 hours a day in the brig at Quantico, and was given a “Prevention of Injury” status usually reserved for inmates who are violent or an escape risk. Manning was deprived of his clothing and forced to wear a “suicide smock” during this time.

Navy Capt. William Hocter, the forensic psychiatrist on staff at Quantico who treated Manning, testified that while he considered Manning a suicide risk when he first arrived, by one month later he believed Manning’s state of mind had stabilized enough for him to be taken off the suicide watch and “Prevention of Injury” (POI) status.

Capt. Hocter’s assessment was backed up by a consulting psychiatrist, Navy Capt. Kevin Moore, who also testified tonight. Capt. Hocter said he was disturbed the recommendations were disregarded. “I never really experienced anything like this,” he said. “It was clear to me they had made up their mind on a certain course of action, and my recommendations had no impact.”

Earlier in the day, Marine Col. Robert Oltman, the security battalion commander at Quantico, testified that guards at the brig had been concerned by what they considered erratic behavior from Manning, including dancing in his cell, and playing “peek-a-boo” with the guards. When asked about Oltman’s testimony, Capt. Hocter dismissed these concerns, saying, “He was dancing in his cell, so what?” to laughter in the courtroom. “He’s sitting in a cell all day, he’s got to do something to amuse himself,” he said, describing Manning’s actions as “normal human behavior. … Lots of things people do in their cells that wouldn’t necessarily concern me.”

In their testimony, Col. Oltman and Capt. Hocter each described a heated exchange over Manning’s continued POI status during a meeting with brig officers. Col. Oltman testified he had lost confidence in Capt. Hocter’s opinion after an inmate suicide at Quantico some months earlier, implying Capt. Hocter could have done more to prevent it. Capt. Hocter acknowledged he was very angry in the meeting, adding that to him Manning’s treatment “seems senseless. I feel bad now that I got angry, but it was appropriate to be upset in that circumstance.”

Capt. Hocter and Capt. Moore both testified that Manning’s treatment would have certainly aggravated his psychological condition; Capt. Hocter testified Manning suffered from both depression and mood disorder. However, both psychiatrists said they saw no malicious intent from the brig officers, which would be necessary for the defense to prove that Manning’s treatment qualified as “unlawful pretrial punishment.”

Both military psychiatrists said they believed Manning’s treatment was due to an excess of caution in protecting an extremely high-profile inmate compounded by a growing concern over military suicides.

“I think they were really very worried about his safety, didn’t trust any doctors,” Capt. Hocter testified. In the “context of what was happening with suicide in general … suicides on base, it was a very rough time,” he said. “They decided they were going to run the risk management aspect of this case — I just wish they had told me that’s what they intended to do.”

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