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WASHINGTON — The soldier suspected of giving classified data to WikiLeaks is being moved to a state-of-the-art facility at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., where Pentagon officials said more extensive mental, emotional and physical health care will be available.
Jeh Johnson, the Pentagon's top lawyer, said the move does not suggest that Army Pfc. Bradley Manning's treatment in the brig at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., was inappropriate.
The transfer, which Johnson described as "imminent," comes in the wake of international criticism about Manning's treatment at Quantico. The conditions of Manning's detention have been the focus of repeated protests from human rights groups and lawmakers.
Johnson, however, said that "the fact that we have made a decision to transfer this particular pretrial confine ... should not be interpreted as a criticism of the place he was before."
Speaking to reporters Tuesday during a hastily arranged briefing, Johnson and Army Undersecretary Joseph Westphal acknowledged that Quantico was not designed to hold pretrial detainees for more than a few months.
"This is the right decision, at the right time," Westphal said. "We were looking at a situation where he would need an environment more conducive for a longer detention."
The Leavenworth facility, they said, will be more open, have more space, and Manning will have a greater opportunity to eat and interact with other prisoners there. They added that the move was in Manning's best interest because Leavenworth's Joint Regional Correctional Facility has a broader array of facilities, including trained mental, emotional and physical health staff.
Lt. Col. Dawn Hilton, who is in charge of the medium-security detention facility at Leavenworth, said Manning will undergo a comprehensive evaluation upon his arrival to assess whether he is a risk to his own or others' safety. The 150 inmates there — including eight who are awaiting trial — are allowed three hours of recreation per day, she said, and three meals a day in a dining area.
She said the facility, which opened in January, is designed for long-term detention of pretrial inmates. Officials agreed that Manning's case, which involves hundreds of thousands of highly sensitive and classified documents, is very complex and could drag on for months, if not years.
Johnson said that Manning, who has been at Quantico for more than eight months, can be moved now because his interview in the Washington region to determine his competency to stand trial has been completed. That interview lasted one day and was done April 9.
Johnson also said he believes that Manning's lawyer was told about the move Tuesday. The lawyer, David Coombs, did not respond to a request for comment.
Manning faces nearly two dozen charges, including aiding the enemy, a crime that can bring the death penalty or life in prison.
His transfer to Leavenworth comes a bit more than a week after a U.N. torture investigator complained that he was denied a request to make an unmonitored visit to Manning. Pentagon officials said he could meet with Manning, but it is customary to give only the detainee's lawyer confidential visits.
The U.N. official, Juan Mendez, said a monitored conversation would be counter to the practice of his U.N. mandate.
A few days later, a committee of Germany's parliament protested about Manning's treatment to the White House. And Amnesty International has said Manning's treatment may violate his human rights.
Human rights activists have also staged protests near Quantico.
Tom Parker, a policy director at Amnesty International, said Tuesday that it would be good if the military was responding to concerns about Manning's detention.
"The conditions that he was reported to be held in at Quantico were extremely harsh and could have damaged his mental health," said Parker.
Manning has been held in maximum security in a single-occupancy cell at Quantico, and he is allowed to wear only a suicide-proof smock to bed each night.
At least part of that will not change, Hilton said, noting that all of the pretrial detainees at the Leavenworth facility are held alone in their cells.
President Obama and senior military officials have repeatedly contended that Manning is being held under appropriate conditions given the seriousness of the charges against him.
A former intelligence analyst, Manning is accused of leaking hundreds of thousands of documents to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks, including Iraq and Afghanistan war logs, confidential State Department cables and a classified military video of a 2007 Apache helicopter attack in Iraq that killed a Reuters news photographer and his driver.
Army prosecutors, however, have told Manning's lawyers that they will not recommend the death penalty.
There are several detention facilities at Fort Leavenworth, including the military's maximum security prison. The new 464-bed Joint Regional Correctional Facility, which opened last fall, combined the operations of several military prisons around the country.
Associated Press writer Robert Burns contributed to this report.