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WikiLeaks suspect tells court of his despair in 'cage'

Bradley Manning is charged with aiding the enemy by causing hundreds of thousands of classified documents to be published on the secret-sharing website WikiLeaks.

Bradley Manning steps out of a security vehicle as he is escorted into the courthouse.
Bradley Manning steps out of a security vehicle as he is escorted into the courthouse.
Image: (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

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 yesterday.

The 24-year-old US Army private, facing possible life imprisonment over allegedly leaking documents to the secret-spilling WikiLeaks website, 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.

Aiding the enemy

Later yesterday 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.

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 despite objections from psychiatrists.

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.

Toilet paper

“If I needed toilet paper, I would stand to attention and shout: ‘Detainee Manning requests toilet paper!’” he said.

Manning, accused of the worst security breach in American history, faces a slew of charges over his alleged disclosures to WikiLeaks, which embarrassed the US government and rankled Washington’s allies.

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.

At Quantico, Manning said he maintained a tough mental outlook and never returned to the despair he felt in Kuwait.

Suicide

But he said he grew frustrated after his requests to lift suicide watch measures were rebuffed, leading him to conclude his appeals were “pointless.”

Manning, who has poor vision, 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.

Two US military psychiatrists told the court earlier that the strict conditions imposed at the brig were unnecessary, unprecedented in duration and against their medical advice.

International outcry

Manning’s treatment at Quantico sparked an international outcry and a United Nations rapporteur on torture concluded he was subjected to cruel and inhumane treatment.

But the US military defends its handling of Manning, saying he had voiced suicidal thoughts in Kuwait and that brig commanders were determined to ensure his safety.

During his testimony, Manning appeared to grow more at ease, apparently relishing his first chance to speak publicly after two years behind bars.

After his detention from July 2010 to April 2011 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.

- © AFP, 2012

Read: Unlikely Celebrity Meeting of the Day: Lady Gaga and Julian Assange >

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