The Army private accused of leaking a massive database of confidential U.S. diplomatic communications to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks is being moved from solitary confinement in a maximum-security cell at the Quantico, Va., Marine Corps Base to a new medium-security detention facility at the Fort Leavenworth military prison in Kansas.
“We have assessed that it is in Private [First Class Bradley] Manning’s best interests to move him at this juncture in the case,” said Jeh C. Johnson, the general counsel for the Defense Department, at a hastily arranged news conference late Tuesday.
He called the U.S. military’s new Joint Regional Correctional Facility at Fort Leavenworth a “state-of-the-art complex with the best and widest range of support facilities available” for Pfc. Manning, who is undergoing assessment to see if he is mentally competent to stand trial — a procedure the military calls a 706 board, after the relevant section of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
Now that the board’s examination of Pfc. Manning is complete, Mr. Johnson said, the military had decided to move him. He declined to give a precise timeline for the transfer, but said it was “imminent.”
“He is a soldier, he is our soldier, and we have to take care of [him],” Army Undersecretary Joseph Westphal told reporters, saying that the new facility at Fort Leavenworth was specifically designed to hold pretrial detainees for extended periods.
The facility at Quantico is “designed to hold someone in pretrial [detention] for a short period of time,” said Mr. Westphal, whereas Pfc. Manning has been in detention for 10 months and likely would not face trial for “several more months.”
Both officials poured cold water on the notion that their decision in anyway implied criticism of the conditions in which Pfc. Manning is being held at Quantico, which have become the subject of controversy. His supporters say Pfc. Manning, who is on suicide watch, has been in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day and forced to sleep naked.
Mr. Johnson said, “This is not a criticism” of officials at Quantico.
Last month, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley resigned after calling the conditions of Pfc. Manning’s incarceration “counterproductive and stupid.”
Lt. Col. Dawn Hilton, the commander of the new facility at Leavenworth, said Pfc. Manning will undergo a risk assessment when he arrives. Depending on the results, he could be housed with other pretrial detainees and get “open recreational time” as well as “three square meals” a day.
Last month, military prosecutors announced new charges for Pfc. Manning related to the alleged downloading of secret information from military computers in Iraq, where he worked as a low-level intelligence analyst. The most serious new charge was aiding the enemy, which is punishable by death, but prosecutors said they would not seek that penalty.