Manning's emotional state should have blocked top secret clearance, lawyers say
By Richard A. Serrano | Los Angeles Times | Published: August 13, 2013
FORT MEADE, Md. -- He was late for meetings, and once curled in a fetal position on a storage room floor and clutched his head, a knife at his feet. He carved the words "I want" into a chair.
Another time, he pounded his fists and flipped over a table of computers before he was wrestled into submission. And in April 2010, Army Pfc. Bradley Manning emailed his sergeant a mug shot of himself wearing makeup, dark lipstick and a flowing blonde wig.
"This is my problem," he wrote in the email. "I have had signs of it for a very long time."
Signs of Manning's emotional distress seemed everywhere. Yet according to testimony Tuesday in the sentencing phase of his court martial, Army officers at Fort Drum, N.Y., and in Iraq didn't cancel Manning's top secret security clearance or seek to transfer him out of Iraq or discharge him from the Army.
Had they done so, Manning's lawyers contend, he would have lost access to the 700,000 classified war logs, diplomatic cables, enemy combatant assessments and other materials he secretly sent to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks to stop what he considered a coverup of military atrocities and other abuses in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Defense lawyers are seeking to persuade a military judge not to impose the maximum 90-year sentence on Manning, who was convicted last month of espionage and other charges related to the illegal disclosures. They are trying to show that Army commanders ignored signs that the Oklahoma-born soldier was mentally unstable and was nearing a breakdown.
Several defense witnesses testified that they thought Manning could handle sensitive material in Iraq as long as he received counseling. His master sergeant, Paul Adkins, who later was reprimanded and reduced in rank over his handling of Manning, said, "I felt that his therapy would eventually bear fruit. I certainly hoped that to be the case."
Manning's email and photo landed in Adkins' inbox on April 24, 2010. The subject line said, "My Problem," and Manning addressed his struggle with being gay.
"I thought a career in the military would get rid of it," he wrote. "It's not something I seek out for attention, and I've been trying very, very hard to get rid of it by placing myself in situations where it would be impossible. But it's not going away. It's haunting me more and more as I get older. Now, the consequences of it are dire, at a time when it's causing me great pain."
Adkins waited a month to alert his superiors.
"I really didn't think having a picture of one of my soldiers floating around in drag was in the best interest of the intel mission," he said. Adkins said he later was told that Manning would have been cut from the intelligence unit if he had shared the photo and email sooner.
He also recalled when Manning once missed formation at Fort Drum and was found "tensed up and clinched his fists and started screaming."
Still, Adkins deemed Manning fit for duty. He recommended more therapy and meetings with a chaplain and encouraged Manning to keep a journal to write down his frustrations.
"We needed analysts to assess the Shia threat," he said. "And I wanted to make sure that we had enough soldiers to conduct our mission."
He said another soldier in the unit had suffered a heart attack and couldn't be deployed to Iraq.
"I didn't assess that we could get away with having two soldiers [stay] behind, especially one with a non-physical health issue."
Chief Warrant Officer Joshua Ehresman said Manning erupted violently against one of his superiors, pounding his fists, flipping a table with government computers and trying to grab a firearm before he was restrained during a counseling session in an Army intelligence compound southeast of Baghdad in December 2009.
"He got angry and slammed his fists on the table," Ehresman said. "He grabbed onto the table and put his arm under it and flipped it onto the floor." A desk computer and a laptop came crashing down.
"I felt that he was going toward a weapons rack, and I felt I needed to detain him," he added. "I grabbed him and put him in a full Nelson and put him on a bench. Then me and him talked. I told him to relax, relax, that we could talk like adults. He said he was calm and to let him go. And he calmed down."
Chief Warrant Officer Kyle Balonek, who followed Ehresman onto the stand, said he and other supervisors decided Manning required counseling but did not need to be transferred with an official derogatory report. A so-called "derog" report could have cost Manning his security clearance and prevented him from having access to classified material.
"In my eyes, it was being addressed. He was receiving some help," Balonek said. "But that particular incident didn't seem particularly derog-worthy. He got upset. And he turned the table. To me, it equated to a temper tantrum. But it is a little dangerous to go for a weapon, if that indeed is what happened."
Manning is expected to testify, or read a written statement, when the sentencing phase reconvenes Wednesday.