Confinement rule vague, brig commander testifies
FORT MEADE, MD. — The former commander of a Marine Corps brig testified Thursday that a vague regulation gave him discretion to maintain tight restrictions on an Army private charged in the WikiLeaks case after a psychiatrist determined the soldier was no longer a suicide risk.
Chief Warrant Officer 4 James Averhart testified on the eighth day of a pretrial hearing for Pfc. Bradley Manning. Averhart and defense attorney David Coombs sparred over the word “shall” in this military corrections regulation: “When prisoners are no longer considered to be suicide risks by a medical officer, they shall be returned to appropriate quarters.”
Averhart said it meant the prisoner should be removed from suicide watch “at a particular time to be determined.”
“‘Shall’ does not mean, the way I perceive it, ‘immediately,’ or ‘right now,’ ” he said.
Coombs tried to pin him down: “Does that have a time limitation?”
Averhart said the regulation allowed him to decide when the restrictions should be eased. He said he didn’t act immediately partly because of Manning’s history of anxiety and suicidal gestures.
The Marine Corps’ chief of corrections testified Wednesday that Averhart violated the regulation twice after psychiatrists recommended Manning’s handling be relaxed.