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How March Madness and 'panties' figure into hearing of Bradley Manning

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Pfc. Bradley Manning is escorted by military police departing the courtroom at Fort Meade, Md., in April. The U.S. Army private is accused of passing classified documents to secret-spilling WikiLeaks,

Updated at 10 p.m. ET: The defense team for Private First Class Bradley Manning — charged in the biggest security breach in U.S. history — invoked the soldier’s excitement about March Madness and questioned a Marine about whether he refers to his underpants as “panties.”

A former intelligence analyst in Baghdad in 2009 and 2010, Manning stands accused of giving thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks, including logs about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and more than 250,000 diplomatic cables. If convicted of the most serious count of the 22 charges against him — aiding the enemy — Manning could face life in prison.

Manning was detained on May 29, 2010, and has been in pre-trial lock-up since. The pretrial hearings have focused primarily on a period of nearly nine months that he was locked up alone in a small cell at the Marine Corps brig in Quantico, Va., and forced to sleep naked for several nights. His lawyers say the solitary confinement constituted illegal punishment — and grounds to dismiss all charges.

Military prosecutors in the case maintain that Manning’s treatment was proper — confining him initially as a maximum-security detainee who posed a risk of injury to himself or others, and after further evaluation changing his status to medium risk.

In Fort Meade on Sunday, the Marine who served as the Quantico brig counselor while Manning was held there defended the decision to keep Manning on strict, "Prevention of Injury" status for months - much longer than most other detainees.

Marine Master Sergeant Craig Blenis said that Manning's statements and actions warranted his restricted status, including when he responded to a question about his suicidal tendencies with the written statement, "Always planning, never acting."

Blenis argued that you don't go to an airport and joke about a bomb, you don't go to D.C. and joke about assassination, and you don't go to a jail and joke about suicide. "If someone tells me they're going to shoot themselves in the face, I'm not going to give them a gun," he said.

Asked about Manning's claim that his statement was just sarcasm, Blenis said that he doesn't interpret sarcasm, "not when you're talking about hurting yourself." 

The defense argued that Manning's continued good behavior should have warranted fewer restrictions. Blenis replied that being polite and courteous doesn't mean someone will not hurt themselves.

Blenis referenced several instances of Manning's odd behavior, citing posing in front of the mirror and flexing his muscles, playing peek-a-boo with himself, and licking the bars of his cell.

Defense attorney David Coombs asked why posing in the mirror was unorthodox, saying that he has done that before, too. Is playing peek-a-boo odd? he asked.

"It's not normal," Blenis said.

In March 2011 Manning made another statement about suicide, saying that if he wanted to kill himself, he could use his underwear or his socks. The guards then began to take away Manning's underwear and socks at night.

Coombs asked Blenis about an email between some members of the Brig staff that said to make sure Manning was not standing naked at evening count, saying, "You should be taking his panties right before he lays down."

Blenis responded that the words underwear and panties can be interchangeable.

"So you call your underwear panties?" Coombs asked.

"Sometimes I do, sir," Blenis said.

"That's your testimony?" Coombs asked.

"Yes, sir," he responded.

March Madness?
Earlier in the day, Staff Sergeant Ryan Jordan told the defense during cross-examination that one reason Manning was kept on prevention of injury status – essentially one level below suicide watch – was that Manning rarely engaged in conversation with the guards.

Jordan related an instance when he and Manning spoke about the upcoming March Madness — the frenzy around the national college basketball playoffs — and said that Manning talked about how he had enjoyed filling out brackets in previous years.

Coombs asked Jordan whether Manning having a possible gender identity disorder was factored into the decision to keep Manning on prevention of injury status, referring to the defendant as Breanna Elizabeth Manning, the alias Manning used when he first arrived at Quantico.

A gender identity disorder "didn't weigh heavily" in his consideration, Jordan said.

The defense attorney also put Manning’s height and weight on the record Sunday for consideration by the judge, postulating that Manning may have been quiet because he was physically intimidated by Jordan. Staff Sergeant Jordan stands 6 foot 9 inches, while Manning is 5 foot 2 inches and weighs about 105 pounds, Coombs said.

NBC News' Kari Huus, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report. 

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