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Bradley Manning testifies about detention in Wikileaks case: 'I totally started to fall apart'

Patrick Semansky / AP

Army Pfc. Bradley Manning.

FORT MEADE, Md. -- The U.S. soldier accused in the biggest leak of classified information in U.S. history broke his silence in court Thursday, speaking in great length and detail about his time in various U.S. military detention facilities.

In the third day of a hearing to determine whether he should face court-martial, Pfc. Bradley Manning began by describing the day he was detained in Iraq on May 27, 2010, and then described each cell and detention facility he's been in since.

After a few days in a facility in Iraq, Manning was taken to Camp Arifjan in Kuwait. He characterized his cell there as a "cage," dark and with no air conditioning. Manning said that after several weeks in the segregation tent at Camp Arifjan he felt like a caged animal. "I was a mess, I totally started to fall apart," he said.

Manning described how he "started to really deteriorate,” and how he was anxious all the time. "I'm going to die, I'm stuck inside this cage," he said he thought to himself, adding, "I had pretty much given up."


He said that on June 30, 2010, he had a mental break from reality. Manning said that he doesn't remember yelling uncontrollably, screaming, mumbling, or making a noose out of his bedsheets, describing everything from those hours as foggy and hazy.

Manning acknowledged that he "certainly contemplated" suicide but that he "didn't want to die," he just wanted to "get out of the cage."  After several weeks of medication, Manning said, he began to "flatten out."

That July, he found out he was moving to another facility, but he had no idea where he was going. He speculated that he could be going to Guantanamo Bay, saying that he was "very scared" and "had no idea" what would happen to him. It wasn't until he was on a plane in Germany that he found out he was flying to Baltimore-Washington International Airport.WI.

Manning said he was "elated" to be back on U.S. soil, but that feeling was trampled when he arrived at Quantico for in-processing. He testified that the Marines conducted a "shark attack" on him, forcing him to fill out paperwork for hours, barking at him the entire time.

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During those hours, Manning answered a question about any suicidal tendencies by saying that he is "always plotting, but never acting."  He wasn't thinking about what he was writing so he responded sarcastically he said, adding that he now regrets that. That statement would haunt him for the duration of his time at Quantico.

Manning was placed on suicide risk when he arrived at Quantico, and he stayed at virtually the same restrictive level for his entire nine months there.

During Thursday’s hearing he used a diagram made of white tape on the floor of the courtroom to illustrate how small his Quantico cell was. He put on a suicide smock (the thick, heavy jumper he was given to sleep in at night), showed a suicide mattress, and described his daily life there.

Manning was always in restraints when out of his cell, and he described in detail a minor altercation he had with the guards in January 2011 that led to even further restrictions.

Manning, frustrated to still be on restrictions in March 2011, tried to make his case to the commander at the brig. He argued that if he wanted to kill himself, he could just use his socks or underwear, something already in his cell.

As expected, that caused the brig leadership to begin taking his clothes away from him at night, citing the need to protect him from harming himself. This was how Manning ended up standing naked at count one morning. Manning testified that he spent several minutes standing completely naked as the guards counted the prisoners after his first night without clothes. His clothes were taken away again that night (and every night after that), but the following mornings the guards had his clothes waiting for him before count.

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In April 2011, Manning was transferred to the Joint Detention Facility at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. He described how strange it felt to be allowed to move around without leg and arm restraints. "It felt awkward," he said. He was surprised to see that at his new facility he was not only given underwear, but he had a T-shirt, shorts, sheets, blankets, a pillow and toiletry items.

Manning testified that this was a "huge upgrade" and he was actually concerned that it was a mistake or miscommunication. Manning got into a verbal and physical altercation with another detainee at Leavenworth, but they were both punished and he has not had any other problems since then.

Overall, Manning testified for more than six hours this afternoon. He was polite, answering sir or ma'am to every question. He rambled at times, clearly unsure how to answer certain questions from his own attorney, and often forgetting names and dates.

We learned a little bit about how he spent his 21 to 23 hours per day in solitary ... he testified that he wasn't allowed to exercise in his cell at Quantico, so he would often "practice various dance moves," calling it "a form of pseudo exercising."

He said he often made faces at himself in the mirror in his cell and played peek a boo with himself, calling the mirror "the most entertaining thing in there." He said he knew he was looking at himself in the mirror, and that he "wasn't seeing anyone else."

Manning acknowledged that he would pretend to lift imaginary weights, calling it strength training, and that he did pretend to have sword fights with himself and that he knew that the guards were watching him.

And he said he prefers non-fiction books and enjoys reading about philosophy and history, but he named John Grisham and Tom Clancy as a couple of his favorite authors.

Court is now in recess. Manning is back in court Friday morning for cross examination from the prosecution.

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