Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)
January 26, 2011

DOD News Briefing with Geoff Morrell from the Pentagon


Q: Geoff, is it true that prosecutors have not been able to tie Private [Bradley] Manning to Julian Assange and essentially make a link between the two in the case?

MR. MORRELL: Well, what I would say on this is, as much as I'd like to weigh into this, this is, as you know, an ongoing criminal investigation. So it would be inappropriate for me to speak to any -- with any specificity to these issues.

But I would avail myself of this opportunity to admonish or warn you all to be extraordinarily careful about how you report on this story, because one thing I can -- I do feel comfortable in telling you is that this case is being taken extremely seriously by the investigators both here in the Defense Department and, of course, at the Department of Justice. They are hard at work at on building a case here.

So any pronouncements about a connection or lack of connection, those that have been found or are yet to be found, are just premature at this point. So I'd urge everybody to proceed with caution on this, and probably most stories, for that matter.

So I'm not in a position, unfortunately, to tackle that as directly as I'd like to. But that's my admonition to you all, including Mr. [Jim “Mik”] Miklaszewski in the front row.

Q: Well, why is he being held in solitary confinement?

MR. MORRELL: He's not being held in solitary confinement. That's a misnomer, among many in the reporting of this case. What I -- let me describe how Private First Class Manning is being held. He is not in solitary confinement. He is not in isolation. He is in max -- he is a maximum-custody detainee in a prevention-of-injury status. He is not on suicide watch. He is being held in the same quarter section with other pretrial detainees. He's allowed to watch television. He's allowed to read newspapers. He's allowed one hour per day of exercise.

He is in a cell by himself, but that is like every single other pretrial detainee at the brig. It just so happens that the configuration of the brig is that every individual is confined to his or her own cell. He's being provided well-balanced, nutritious meals three times a day. He receives visitors and mail, and can write letters. He routinely meets with doctors, as well as his attorney. He's allowed to make telephone calls. And he is being treated just like every other detainee in the brig.

So assertions by liberal bloggers, or network reporters or others that he is being mistreated, or somehow treated differently than others, in isolation, are just not accurate. And I'm glad you asked the question, so I had the opportunity, hopefully, to clear that matter up once and for all.


Q: Could I just follow up on that? I mean, all of that being said, he still does spend 23 out of every 24 hours in that cell by himself. He's not allowed to exercise in the cell. He's not allowed to arbitrarily just write letters. He has to specifically ask for anything more than, say, one book at a time. Are -- is there any concern that -- because from what we've heard, even the forensic psychologist who spoke with him and examined him recommended that he not be on this protective order. I think that there's a -- there's a question out there as to exactly how the brig commander -- what criteria is being used to keep him under this order for such a long period of time, considering he's still in a pre-trial status.

MR. MORRELL: Just as though he is not being treated any worse than any other detainee, he is not being treated any better than any other detainee. He is not going to receive special privileges, which is essentially what you are asking him to receive. He is being treated exactly like everyone else in the brig is being treated. That's what's appropriate. We treat them all equally. And I don't understand why there would be a need for an exception to those rules to be made for Private Manning -- or anyone else, for that matter.

Q: Well, are there other prisoners who have been under this protective order for the length of time that Private Manning has?

MR. MORRELL: That's probably a question that's best addressed to my colleagues at Quantico, in terms of the population at the brig there, how long some have been there versus others. I don't believe that this is an unusually long period of time. A case is being built to prosecute him on the charges that were -- again, to correct another mis-report yesterday that -- you know, there were cable news reports yesterday that somehow Private Manning was being held without charge -- not just that he was being held in conditions that the media thought were inappropriate, but that he was being held without charge -- and how un-American that is.

As you all know who work in this building, who received the charge sheet back in July, he most certainly has been charged. And he has not only been charged with illegally downloading classified information, but he has been charged with disseminating classified information to people unauthorized to receive it. So those are very serious charges levied against him, related to a very discrete incident involving mostly the downloading of Apache gunship video from Iraq, but also some cables as well were mentioned in the charging sheet back in July. He is, as we mentioned a person of interest in the much larger leak by WikiLeaks of additional classified documents, cables and tactical field reports and so forth. But I think the manner in which he is being held is completely appropriate and completely consistent with how any and all detainees at the brig are treated.

Q: One last question --

MR. MORRELL: Yeah, I'll get -- Mik, I promise you I will give you a chance.


Q: The protective order is not designed to punish him for being charged with those crimes. It's supposed to protect him. I guess we're trying to --

MR. MORRELL: The protective order -- I would -- I would imagine that one -- when one is confined in the brig, it is not just for their protection that we are worried. We are always worried about our protection. He is charged with very serious crimes. That's why you isolate someone behind bars. That's why you confine someone, so that they cannot escape, cannot possibly commit the crimes that they are alleged to have done again.

So it's not -- he is -- I think you have it a little backwards. I think you have it that he is being held for his own protection in the manner which he's being held. That may be, that there -- there are reasons that they think that it is for his own benefit that he be held so. But it can also be that he's being held behind bars because he is a -- deemed a threat, that he has been alleged to have committed a very serious crime that potentially undermines our nation's security, and therefore he needs to be confined during the course of a trial.

But I would just -- what I come back to time and time again, Chris, is the notion that the manner of his confinement is not in the least different from the manner in which anyone else at the brig is being held.

Q: But not everybody's under that protective order.

MR. MORRELL: I'm -- I -- you keep coming back to this protective order. I'm not so sure I know what you're talking about. I described conditions to you, the manner in which he's being held. And my understanding is that is consistent with how every other person in the brig is being held.

Now, the one exception to that could be this suicide-watch issue. He was placed on suicide watch, as I understand it, for two days. So that can be a difference between how others in the brig are being held. But my understanding is that the manner in which he is being held is not punishment for any behavior, but this is the standard protocol for how people at the brig are held, especially people with the gravity of the charges he is facing.


Q: Well, since you mentioned me by name and, through implication, tied me to incorrect reporting, which would be incorrect, I do have a couple of questions.

MR. MORRELL: Fire away.

Q: Was the brig commander at Quantico in error in putting Private Manning on suicide watch for two days last week? Did he violate protocol?

MR. MORRELL: My understanding is that he did not and that, despite your reporting, which suggests that only doctors at the facility can make a call of that nature, what I've been told is that the brig commander is ultimately responsible for the well-being and confinement of everyone in his charge. And so he has the wherewithal to make decisions based upon input from others, including doctors, about how it is best to treat people given the current circumstances.

He made a judgment call. It sounds like that he put him under suicide watch for a period of two days. But as I understand it, he was well within his rights to do so as the commander of the brig.

Q: And is it within his authority to put somebody on suicide watch for a disciplinary purpose?

MR. MORRELL: I frankly am not aware of all the regulations that he operates under. But I would imagine that, as the brig commander, he has extraordinary discretion in terms of how best to run that facility, how best to protect the well-being of the people he -- who he's charged with safekeeping. And I don't know all that goes into, frankly, Mik, making a decision about one -- about when one needs to be watched more carefully in the event they may be considering doing harm to themselves.

Q: And was Manning taken off suicide watch at the urging of Army lawyers?

MR. MORRELL: I don't know. I don't know. But even if it were at the urging of Army lawyers, it would ultimately have to be a -- the judgment of the brig commander that that was the appropriate course of action. And he would not have done it unless he thought that was the best way to proceed, both for his facility and the well-being of people there and, of course, for Private Manning's well-being.

Okay? What else?

Q: Yeah -- no, I wanted to --


Q: Can you tell us today if, in fact, there is evidence that Private Manning was ever in direct contact with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange?

MR. MORRELL: I think I've answered this question when it was put to me by Jennifer. And I'm happy to repeat it if you like. But as much as I would like to answer that more directly, I'm not in a position to.

And I'm not going to elaborate on why I'm not in a position to other than to say that it would be inappropriate, given the fact that this is an ongoing investigation, for me to answer that with the specificity that I'd like to.

And I'd once again urge you and all to be very careful, given the fact that this is an ongoing investigation. It's being -- you know, this has -- this has received the highest-level attention in this department, in the Department of Justice. There are many, many resources devoted to investigating this and also bringing a case against those responsible for this breach of national security. So I think it is way too soon to make pronouncements with the kind of definitiveness that I've seen in some of the reporting, given where we still are in this investigation.

Q: Are you implying that you have information that, in fact, Manning was in direct contact with Julian Assange? Because --

MR. MORRELL: I am not -- Mik, Mik, I am not implying -- Mik, I'm not --

Q: (Inaudible) -- you don't want to reveal the specifics?

MR. MORRELL: I'm not implying --

Q: That's the -- that's the implication you made.

MR. MORRELL: You can infer what you -- Mik --

Q: You said you'd like to respond with the specificity.

MR. MORRELL: Mik, you can infer what you like, but I am not implying anything other than what I said, which was very clear. I'm not going to wade into the ongoing investigation. But I urge you all to be very careful, because it is still very much in progress. And it would be premature to draw any definitive conclusions about where we are vis-ŕ-visdirect connections, a web of connections, found, not found, any of that. We're not and you are not -- no one is in a position yet to draw those conclusions.

Q: Are there third-parties being investigated?

MR. MORRELL: This investigation is broad. I think the best -- the best question -- it's best directed at the Justice Department. But my understanding is that this is a very broad, very robust investigation that will look any and every place to find all those who may or may not have been involved in the leak of this classified information.

Q: A follow up, Geoff?

MR. MORRELL: Are you on this?

Q: (Inaudible)

MR. MORRELL: Okay. Let me -- let me finish this up, and then we'll come over to you.

Q: All right. Thank you. First of all, we're meeting first time: Happy New Year.

MR. MORRELL: Happy New Year.

Q: My question is that because of WikiLeaks, as far as this connection and he is behind bars, one, many high-level Indian military officials are under investigation but they are in jail now because of WikiLeaks. And now what my question is, as far as WikiLeaks is concerned, this man is behind bars here. Have you stopped, as far as WikiLeaks is concerned, for the future? What have you done? Because many other countries also involved as far as WikiLeaks and U.S. defense and --

MR. MORRELL: For the future of what?

Q: Have you stopped the WikiLeaks in the -- for the future? And no more WikiLeaks are coming? Or have you done something --

MR. MORRELL: Listen, you'd have to -- you'd have to talk to Mr. Assange and his cronies. I don't know what they have still up their sleeve. You'd have to -- you'd have to talk to them.

Q: (Inaudible) -- really, as far as U.S. and international, global military-to-military relations are concerned, especially with India now because of this WikiLeaks, many high-level military officers are in -- behind bars or under investigation. Do you have any -- if anybody has approached this building in connection with WikiLeaks with the U.S. and India, military to military?

MR. MORRELL: I am -- I am not aware of any specific engagements with regards to or conversations with regards to fallout from anything that's been disclosed by WikiLeaks in the U.S.-India military-to-military relationship. We have gone to great lengths in all of our bilateral relationships to give advanced warning to our friends and allies around the world about what were potentially in these documents. I know our colleagues at State have done the same thing on a diplomatic basis. So we've been very forthright about this, and obviously it's been an embarrassing -- and I think -- I think people have lost sight a little bit about how damaging this has been in terms of diplomatic relations, in terms of potential harm to those named in these documents and in terms of the fallout in terms of intelligence-sharing relationships. These are very real consequences that have not received probably as much attention as they deserve to receive.


Source: Department of Defense