WASHINGTON: The army private suspected of giving classified US documents to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks was stripped of all clothing for two nights to keep him from hurting himself in his military jail cell, a Marine Corps spokesman said yesterday.

The brig commander issued the order on Thursday, the same day Bradley Manning was hit with a new charge, aiding the enemy, which could carry the death penalty.

Manning’s civilian lawyer, David Coombs, called the treatment degrading. He said the brig commander, Chief Warrant Officer Denise Barnes, issued the order without consulting the brig’s mental health providers. Coombs has repeatedly complained that Manning’s strict confinement conditions are punitive,which the military denies.

“There can be no conceivable justification for requiring a soldier to surrender all his clothing, remain naked in his cell for seven hours, and then stand at attention the subsequent morning,” Coombs wrote on his blog.

But First Lieutenant Brian Villiard said Barnes was striving to keep Manning safe, secure and able to stand trial.

“The circumstances required that his clothing be removed as a precaution to ensure that he didn’t harm himself,” Villiard said.

Villiard said privacy rules prevented him discussing the circumstances that prompted the order, but “I can tell you that this was event-driven”.

Manning, a former intelligence analyst, has been in pretrial confinement since his arrest in Iraq in May. He is charged with 34 offences for allegedly stealing computer files of more than 250,000 confidential State Department cables, classified video of a deadly US helicopter attack and a plethora of Iraq and Afghanistan war logs. The video and thousands of the documents have been published on the WikiLeaks website.

The 23-year-old Marine was brought on July 29 to Quantico, south of Washington, where he is in maximum custody and on prevention-of-injury status. Those designations keep him confined alone 23 hours a day, and require removal of all clothing except his boxer shorts at night.

On Thursday, the army announced 22 new charges including aiding the enemy. The charge is punishable by death but prosecutors have said they will recommend a non-capital offence.

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