In this June 25, 2012, photo, Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, right, is escorted out of a courthouse in Fort Meade, Md. (Patrick Semansky / AP)
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FORT MEADE, Md. — The Marine Corps' top correctional administrator said Wednesday that brig officials at Quantico, Va., used improper procedures to recommend that an Army private charged with giving U.S. secrets to the WikiLeaks website be held in maximum custody.
Chief Warrant Officer 5 Abel Galaviz testified at a pretrial hearing at Fort Meade. The hearing is to determine whether the nine months that Pfc. Bradley Manning spent in the brig amounted to illegal punishment, possibly warranting dismissal of the case.
Galaviz said the board used an unapproved form to convey its recommendations to the brig commander. He said the board's senior officer improperly filled out the form before the board met.
Further, he said the officer shouldn't have been a board member at all, because his views could influence the others.
The testimony was the strongest evidence the defense has produced to counter the government's claim that the confinement conditions were proper.
Nevertheless, Galaviz concluded that the brig commander, Chief Warrant Officer 4 James Averhart, was justified in keeping Manning in maximum custody.
Earlier Wednesday, a former supervisor of the brig denied Wednesday that he was making light of Manning's homosexuality when he referred to the soldier's underwear as "panties" in a staff memo.
Marine Corps Master Sgt. Brian Papakie testified as a prosecution witness on the seventh day of the pretrial hearing. The military contends Manning had to be confined to his 8-by-6-foot cell at least 23 hours a day, sometimes without clothing, to prevent him from hurting or killing himself during his confinement from July 2010 to April 2011.
Papakie testified on cross-examination about a memo he wrote after the brig commander ordered Manning stripped of his underwear each night starting March 2, 2011. Manning stood naked at attention for a prisoner count the next morning, causing a stir that prompted Papakie to write an email to ensure it didn't happen again.
"Make sure he is not standing at attention naked for evening count right before taps. You should be taking his panties right before he lays down," Papakie wrote.
Under questioning by defense attorney David Coombs, Papakie said he uses the word interchangeably with "skivvies" and "underwear" when discussing men's undershorts.
"I've always used the phrase, 'Don't get my panties in a bunch,' which is what I tell the staff all the time," he said.
Papakie acknowledged that he knew Manning was gay but said he didn't consider the word "panties" homophobic. He conceded that it was not professional to use the term in a memo.
Papakie followed another witness, Marine Corps Master Sgt. Craig Blenis, who testified Sunday that Manning's sexual orientation was among the factors that led him to recommend Manning remain on injury-prevention status despite two psychiatrists' repeated recommendations that his conditions be eased.
Blenis referred to a letter Manning had signed "Breanna Manning," an alias he had used on occasion. The defense revealed at a hearing last year that Manning had written to a supervisor in Baghdad before his arrest, saying he suffered from gender-identity disorder. He included a picture of himself dressed as a woman and talked about how it was affecting his ability to do his job and think clearly.
A former brig counselor, Blenis said the letter was a "red flag" for potential self-injury. He said he considered it along with Manning's acknowledged history of suicidal thoughts shortly after his arrest, and his odd behavior at Quantico such as dancing alone in his cell and licking the cell bars during what the defense has characterized as a sleepwalking episode.
Asked by Coombs why Manning's gender-identification issues increased his risk of self-injury, Blenis replied, "That's not normal, sir."
"When you add that on top of a few other things we've talked about, it just shows he's not stable," Blenis said. "It's a cause for concern."
Manning was arrested in May 2010, before the military lifted a ban on homosexuals serving openly in the armed services.
Manning's lawyers must show that his treatment at Quantico was either intentional punishment or so egregious that it was tantamount to punishment. The government has the burden of proving by preponderance of the evidence that it had a legitimate purpose in imposing the restrictions.
The judge, Col. Denise Lind, could dismiss all charges if she finds for the defense but military legal experts say that's unlikely. A more common remedy is extra credit at sentencing for time served. Manning's lawyers have asked for 10-for-1 credit if the judge refuses to dismiss the case.
Manning's treatment drew international attention and was condemned by his supporters, who consider him a heroic whistleblower. United Nations torture investigator Juan E. Mendez called Manning's treatment "cruel, inhuman and degrading."
The 24-year-old native of Crescent, Okla., is charged with 22 offenses, including aiding the enemy, which carries a maximum penalty of life in prison. He's accused of leaking hundreds of thousands of classified Iraq and Afghanistan war logs and more than 250,000 diplomatic cables while working as an intelligence analyst in Baghdad in 2009 and 2010. He's also charged with leaking a 2007 video clip of a U.S. helicopter crew gunning down 11 men later found to have included a Reuters news photographer and his driver. The Pentagon concluded the troops acted appropriately, having mistaken the camera equipment for weapons.