A former supervisor of the Marine Corps brig that housed an Army private charged with sending U.S. secrets to the WikiLeaks website denied this week that he was making light of Pfc. Bradley 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 a pretrial hearing at Fort Meade, near Baltimore. The hearing will determine whether the nine months Manning spent in Marine Corps custody in Quantico, Virginia, amounts to illegal pretrial punishment, and whether his case should be dismissed as a result. The military contends Manning had to be confined to his cell at least 23 hours a day, sometimes without clothing, to prevent him from hurting or killing himself during his confinement July 2010-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 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.
Manning was arrested in May 2010, before the military lifted a ban on gays 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 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.