Camille Elhassani is the Senior Pentagon and State Department Producer of Al Jazeera. She can be contacted at http://www.twitter.com/celhassani.
In much anticipated testimony to illustrate his treatment while in custody at Marine Corps Base Quantico, US Army Private First Class Bradley Manning took the stand in a military courtroom in Maryland.
Manning provided details of his confinement from the time he was taken into custody in Iraq in May 2010 to his arraignment in December 2011 on charges he was the source of the leaks of hundreds of thousands of classified documents to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks.
Clearly the low point for Manning was when he was being held in Kuwait in the summer of 2010.
He was held in a wire mesh cell keeping a nighttime schedule and sleeping during the day. He said he was confused about what was happening to him. Manning said, “I thought I was going to die in that cage.”
He fashioned a noose, but said while he contemplated suicide he knew it was futile because there was no place to hang the noose. He repeatedly said his world was coming apart in Kuwait.
When he was taken to the airport in Kuwait City in July 2010, Manning said he didn’t know where he was going and was concerned he might be headed to the detention centre at Guantanamo Bay Cuba.
But when he found out he was heading back to the United States, Manning said he felt great. Upon arrival, he was driven to Quantico, Virginia where he was immediately put on suicide watch.
While filling out paperwork at Quantico, Manning answered a question about his mental health saying he was always planning but never acting on suicidal thoughts.
He claimed that was a sarcastic comment and that he now regrets writing it. Months later, that comment was used as justification for not taking him off prevention of injury status.
That status kept him confined to his cell for 23 hours a day with his activities severely restricted.
During nearly 5 hours of testimony, Manning described his cell at Quantico using a mockup taped to the floor of the courtroom. He also tried on a suicide smock and displayed a suicide blanket like the one he was issued.
Manning answered his lawyer’s questions easily and seemed happy to talk. Spectators in the courtroom laughed when Manning replied to a question about why he made faces in the mirror of his cell that caused the commanders to believe he was having problems.
Manning said he was trying to stop the boredom. “The most entertaining thing in there was the mirror.”
He left Quantico on April 20, 2011 bound for Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Leavenworth is a prison facility equipped specifically to handle pretrial and post conviction soldiers.
The brig at Quantico was an older facility that had recently been downsized. Earlier in the week Quantico commanders said their facility was inadequate to handle Manning. Of his new housing, Manning said, “it was a huge upgrade.”
The prosecution will cross-examine Manning about his confinement at Quantico on Friday.