FORT MEADE, Md. - An Army private charged with leaking classified material to WikiLeaks said Friday that he tied a bedsheet into a noose while considering suicide during his pretrial confinement in Kuwait.
Pfc. Bradley Manning testified on the fourth day of a pretrial hearing at Fort Meade near Baltimore. Manning testified under cross-examination that he made the noose in Kuwait before he was moved to a Marine Corps brig in Quantico, Va. He claims that his treatment later at Quantico was so harsh that the charges against him should be dismissed.
He arrived at Quantico classified as a suicide risk. Eight days later, he was upgraded to the less-restrictive "prevention of injury" status.
Manning maintains that neither designation was appropriate because he didn't feel like hurting himself after leaving Kuwait.
Under questioning by prosecutor Maj. Ashden Fein, Manning said that upon arrival at Quantico in July 2010, he was told he would be processed into the brig as a suicide risk. He said he noted on his intake form that he had considered suicide.
He also wrote on the form that he was "always planning and never acting" upon suicidal thoughts.
In January 2011, after complaining about his custody classification, Manning met with a board of officers that made custody status recommendations. He said when he was asked about the statement on his intake form about planning and never acting, he told the board that he might have lied.
"I did say it might have been a sarcastic answer," Manning said. "I told them today, the end of January 2011, I'm not suicidal. I'm not trying to harm myself or anything like that."
The testimony marked the first time military prosecutors went face-to-face with Manning.
He spoke publicly Thursday for the first time since his May 2010 arrest, saying he got so used to leg irons and being locked up 23 hours a day that when he was finally transferred to medium-security confinement at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., in April 2011, he felt uneasy moving freely around the cell block.
"There was the sense of, `OK, I know they're going to put the hammer down on me soon,'" Manning said near the end of his five hours on the witness stand.
Besides being classified "maximum custody," Manning was subjected to additional restraints during his nine months at Quantico. Commanders maintained the extra restrictions despite repeated recommendations by brig psychiatrists that they be eased. They included scratchy, suicide-prevention bedding and sometimes having all his clothing, eyeglasses and reading material removed from his cell.
The military contends the treatment was proper.
At one point during his testimony Thursday, Manning donned a dark-green, suicide-prevention smock resembling an oversized tank top made of stiff, thick fabric. He said it was similar to one he was issued in March 2011, several days after Quantico jailers started requiring him to surrender all his clothing and eyeglasses each night as a suicide-prevention measure. This occurred after he told them - out of frustration, he said - that if he really wanted to hurt himself, he could have done so with his underwear waistband or flip-flops.
The 5-foot-3 soldier looked youthful in his dark-blue dress uniform, close-cropped hair and rimless eyeglasses. He was animated, often speaking in emphatic bursts, swiveling in the witness chair and gesturing with his hands.
Also Thursday, the military judge, Army Col. Denise Lind, accepted the terms under which Manning may plead guilty to eight of the 22 charges he faces. Coombs revealed the plea offer in early November, saying it would enable Manning to take responsibility for sending U.S. secrets to WikiLeaks.
Lind hasn't formally accepted the pleas but has indicated she will consider them at a hearing starting Dec. 10.
Under the offer, Manning would plead guilty to certain charges as violations of military regulations rather than as violations of federal espionage and computer security laws. The offenses would then carry maximum prison terms totaling 16 years rather than 72.
The pleas would include admissions that Manning sent WikiLeaks classified memos, Iraq and Afghanistan war logs, Guantanamo Bay prison records and a 2007 video clip of a U.S. helicopter crew gunning down 11 men later found to have included a Reuters news photographer and his driver. The video, titled "Collateral Murder" on WikiLeaks, garnered worldwide attention. The Pentagon concluded the troops acted appropriately during the attack, having mistaken the camera equipment for weapons.
The government could still prosecute Manning for all 22 counts he faces, including aiding the enemy. That offense carries a maximum penalty of life in prison.
Manning is accused of engineering the biggest leak of classified material in U.S. history. Besides the video, he is charged with sending hundreds of thousands of classified Iraq and Afghanistan war logs and more than 250,000 diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks while working as an intelligence analyst in Baghdad in 2009 and 2010.