From ‘culpable’ to ‘responsible’ – Will James Averhart be Sanctioned?

Following on from yesterday’s revelation about Quantico Brig Commander James Averhart placing Bradley Manning under suicide watch for two days for reasons that had nothing to do with medical need, potentially exceeding his authority in doing so, there have been conflicting reports tonight about whether he will be the subject of an official investigation – and, after unravelling the confusion, the short answer to my question is no, he won’t.

Remarkably, CNN managed to run three completely contradictory reports in the space of a few hours. Here is a screen capture of the original report (huge thanks to emptywheel @ firedoglake.com who was smart enough to save this):

Original CNN report on Averhart investigation - later retracted

Original CNN report on Averhart investigation - later retracted

 

A Pentagon spokesman, Col. David Lapan is cited as the source for the information that an investigation is ongoing on the basis that Averhart did not have the necessary medical authority to impose a suicide watch, which is after all supposed to be a therapeutic measure rather than a punitive one. The investigation spoken about would presumably be that arising from David Coombs’ Article 138 complaint of 21st January. Pretty heartening stuff, isn’t it?

Alas no. Just an hour or so later, CNN issued an official retraction attributed to the very same Pentagon spokesman. No detail here other than a flat denial of the preceding story.

(CNN) — CNN has retracted a story dealing with questions surrounding the treatment of Pfc. Bradley Manning at the Marine Corp Base Quantico in Virginia. Pentagon spokesman Col. David Lapan said Tuesday that there is no investigation into the decision last week to put Manning, who has been charged with leaking classified government documents to Wikileaks, on suicide watch.

A little later, yet another, fuller, story emerged, which completely turned things around by defending the actions of Averhart. Lapan is not cited this time, instead the quote is in the rather more familiar name of Lieutenant Brian Villiard, who is the regular Quantico press liaison. This is what he had to say.

“The brig commander has the ultimate responsibility to determine what status a detainee is given. He based the decision on information from psychological professionals, the medical staff and the Marine guards who are interacting with him around the clock. The commander was absolutely within his right. Not just his right, his responsibility,” said Lieutenant Brian Villiard.

From potentially culpable behaviour to responsible practice within just a few hours! What actually went on in this rather embarrassing PR kerfuffle is anyone’s guess – it’s not clear whether Lapan’s story changed, and if so why, or whether CNN just misunderstood him – but I’ll update if new information emerges.

Update

Developments there were! As of this afternoon (Wednesday), James Averhart has been relieved of his position as Quantico Base Commander, to be replaced by Chief Warrant Officer Denise Barnes. I think we all owe it to ourselves to feel quite pleased about this news.

We also have another classic “yeah, right” moment from CBS when they report that:

A base spokesman claims the complaint and Averhart’s removal are not related, and that the decision to replace Averhart was made back in October, CNN reports.

Justifiable schadenfreude aside, Bradley Manning’s lawyer David Coombs has gone on the record with some guarded optimism about what this change might mean for his client:

“We are hopeful that she will do a complete review of Pfc. Manning’s custody situation,” attorney David Coombs, told CNN. Manning’s current situation “is unwarranted and unnecessary while he awaits trial,” Coombs added.

And it does indeed appear that Bradley will be visited by a forensic psychiatrist this week. That psychiatrist will make a recommendation to a ‘classification and assignment board’, which in turn will advise Denise Barnes about what kind of treatment Bradley should be receiving. Let’s hope that the new Quantico top brass makes the right decision and starts giving Bradley the respect he deserves. After the events of this week, Barnes can be sure the world will be watching to make sure this happens.

Update II

I just wrote a comment about this on today’s (Thursday) WL update in The Guardian, including a reference to that DOD briefing I have not written about directly so far. I am sorely tempted to take this to pieces line-by-line, but others better informed than I have already done a fine job, which would make it a bit of an indulgent exercise.

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10 responses to “From ‘culpable’ to ‘responsible’ – Will James Averhart be Sanctioned?

  1. This just means that the orders for the abuse came from the White House.

  2. Jennifer McKendrick

    Please send him my love. He will remain safe and treated humane. Justice is in order.

  3. How can Obama ignore all the noise being made about Bradley? The whole thing is a disgrace, I hope public pressure can get him out before he loses his mind. We have to make a VERY loud noise & not stop.

  4. @pointus I’m not sure we can quite say that, but it does look like someone rather senior may have intervened here.

  5. Quantico Brig Commander James Averhart should be placed on a watch-list by the UK government for his alleged cruel & inhumane treatment of a UK citizen. Should he ever enter UK territory, he should be arrested for said alleged treatements.

    Any other persons whom are responsible for such treatments of UK nationals should be similarly treated, if you have additional names and evidence, share it please.

    Concerned citizens should demand this action via their MP’s who’s contact details can be found here: http://www.parliament.uk/mps-lords-and-offices/mps/

  6. If you want to help Bradley, please sign the petition at firedoglake.com and follow Bradley’s friend on twitter for updates. This past weekend they barred him from seeing Bradley and towed his vehicle. Follow: #davidmhouse

  7. The only thing I’m sure of in this little slice of the matter is that it’s a standard military SNAFU – situation normal, all fucked up.

    Lt. Villiard seems to be the regular PR guy on the case (and the Quantico base), and his story the most consistent. Then we have Col. Thomas V. Johnson (no, I didn’t make that up), who popped in to say “poppycock!” back in the 13th to allegations Manning is being mistreated. Now there’s Col. Lapan in the mix, maybe getting his hand slapped for talking out of school.

    My favorite of all though is former ABC News talking head Geoff Morrell, now the DoD’s chief PR flack: http://c-span.org/Events/Defense-Department-Press-Briefing/10737419176/ (Manning’s lawyer’s rejoinder here: http://www.armycourtmartialdefense.info/2011/01/pfc-bradley-manning-is-not-being.html). Yes, this is the same Geoff Morrell who could be seen standing up and repeatedly demanding that WikiLeaks “return all copies of the documents”, as if that were something even possible.

    • Hello Mike,

      First off, I am thrilled to have your comment here. I’ve actually started flagging up all the unbelievably-barefaced ‘yeah right’ moments because they give me some small amusement. I should maybe do the same with the military PR snafus as, from what you say I can see there are going to be more of them. I am going to have to give that DOD press briefing some serious attention too, aren’t I? Since the Daily Show started broadcasting its inferior international edition overseas I haven’t had a great deal of exposure to the minor players in your country’s political game so all this is a bit of a learning curve. There has certainly been a lot to catch up with this week so thanks for bearing with me!

      Naomi

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