WikiLeaks suspect Bradley Manning admitted to falling apart during his detention and contemplating suicide, as he took the stand for the first time at a pre-trial hearing on Thursday.
The 24-year-old US Army private, facing possible life imprisonment over allegedly leaking documents to the secret-spilling WikiLeaks Web site, acknowledged he had suicidal thoughts initially when he was held in a “cage” in Kuwait in 2010.
He told the court he “started to fall apart” not long after being detained in Iraq in May 2010. After being held for a short time in Kuwait, he was transferred to a brig in Quantico, Virginia, where he was held for nine months.
Later on Thursday military judge Denise Lind said Manning could potentially plead guilty to lesser charges and avoid conviction for “aiding the enemy,” which carries a possible life sentence.
However, the ruling focused solely on the wording of a proposal from Manning and did not represent formal acceptance of a plea, which could come at later proceedings.
During his testimony, Manning recounted the severe restrictions and monotony he faced during his pre-trial confinement in Kuwait and Quantico.
Manning is demanding his case be dismissed because of alleged mistreatment during his detention at the Quantico brig, where he was kept isolated and under suicide watch.
The boyish-looking soldier recounted how he was forced to stand at attention naked in his cell and encountered angry responses when he questioned his detention regime.
Manning, accused of the worst security breach in US history, faces a slew of charges over his alleged disclosures to WikiLeaks.
Manning said that soon after his detention in Kuwait he lost phone privileges and started to feel increasingly anxious.
“I totally started to fall apart,” Manning said.
Before his transfer to Quantico in July 2010, Manning said guards at a US brig in Kuwait repeatedly searched his cell and scattered his possessions.
Manning said he soon had suicidal feelings.
“I certainly contemplated it a few times,” he said. “I had pretty much given up. My world had just shrunk.”
At Quantico, Manning said he was able to maintain a tough mental outlook. However, he said he grew frustrated after his requests to lift suicide watch measures were rebuffed.
Manning said he had his glasses taken away, had to request toilet paper and was forced to remove his underwear at night and then sleep on an uncomfortable mattress designed for inmates deemed a suicide risk.
At the hearing in Fort Meade, Maryland, Manning was asked to step from the dock and stand near an outline of his narrow cell at Quantico, which was drawn on the floor of the courtroom.
As he pointed out details of the 1.8m by 2.4m cell, he was asked to try on a heavy “suicide smock” similar to the one he had to wear to bed during his detention.
After his detention from July 2010 to April last year at Quantico, Manning was transferred to a prison at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, where authorities concluded he was not a suicide risk and granted him regular privileges.