FT. MEADE, Md. (CN) - Pfc. Bradley Manning, testifying on Thursday for the first time, stepped into a taped-off 6-by-8 foot section of a military courtroom representing the prison cell where he says he was abused. The dramatic presentation came on day three of hearings to investigate possible "unlawful pre-trial punishment."
While rarely granted in courts-martial, such a finding could result in a dismissal of all charges, or a reduced sentence for offenses that carry a potential life sentence.
The 24-year-old soldier was arrested in May 2010 at Forward Base Hammer in Iraq, as the suspected source of the largest intelligence leak in U.S. history.
His attorney, David Coombs, told his client Thursday, "I know this is a little nerve-wracking," as he called him to take the stand for the first time.
Manning, 5 feet 2 inches tall with a slim build, has a diagnosed history of anxiety and appeared nervous when he took the stand.
As he eased into recounting his story, he spoke in a precise, controlled, clear and rapid-fire tone. The detached, analytical tone seemed to reflect his former rank: intelligence specialist, until he was demoted to private first class.
He punctuated several of answers to his lawyer with, "Yes, sir."
His 5-hour direct examination delved into the period dating from his arrest until roughly one year later.
Manning said he was escorted days after his arrest to Camp Arifjan in Kuwait, where he was placed in a tent with an 8-by-8-by-8-foot cube he called an "animal cage."
He said he felt no connection to the world outside of his cell.
"My nights were my days, and my days were my nights," Manning said.
During this time, he said, he "started to really deteriorate" and "fall apart."
This period became such a blur in his mind, he said, that he forgot he had created nooses from his bed sheets, though he remembered seeing them later.
He said his suicidal ideations began to lift after staff on the base treated him with anti-anxiety medications such as Zoloft.
His jailors in Kuwait transferred him out roughly two months later because they did not have the resources to treat him adequately.
Manning said he did not know where he was going when they put in him on a plane, and he worried that he was headed to Guantanamo or Djibouti.
Though he now calls that thought "silly," he said he was not as familiar then with how the military justice system looked from the inside.
He said he could not sleep on the plane because he was shackled to a coach seat in a "body cuff."
His face lit up when he described how it felt when he learned he was heading back to Maryland, where he once lived.
"I was grateful to be back into the familiar surroundings. American soil. BWI!" he exclaimed, referring to the Baltimore-area airport.
He said he appreciated the familiarity in the architecture of the Marine Corps brig at Quantico, a "brick-and-mortar" building with air-conditioning, which he lacked in his tent in Kuwait.
During what he called his "indoctrination," or intake process, he said the staff barraged him with a verbal "shark attack," which he described as a common tactic to acclimatize detainees to the culture of the Marines.
The prison's intake form had a field on suicide, where he wrote, "Always planning, never acting."
Manning said he regretted writing the "sarcastic" remark.
High-ranking Quantico officials have testified that they wanted to avoid a repeat of an incident in which a detainee, Capt. Michael Webb, suffocated himself with his clothing, a plastic bag and a rubber band.
The brig's chief, Col. Carl Coffman, said that tragedy lay heavy on their minds when they read about Manning's nooses in Kuwait.
Manning said the staff refused to accept any signs that his suicidal thoughts had passed, even after multiple prison psychologists found he did not pose a harm to anybody.
Attorney Coombs called him down from the witness stand to act out an average day on suicide watch in a mock cell, represented by white gaffers tape on the floor.
As he stepped into this space, the military judge, Col. Denise Lind, stood up to watch.
Spectators shuffled in their pews to get a better view, or stretched furtively higher in their seats to avoid glares from sergeants-at-arms and contractors enforcing court regulations.
Manning said the tape representing the sink and toilet showed that they were attached to each other.
The guards watched him directly across from this space, he said, giving him no privacy when he used the bathroom.
He said he would have to say, "Detainee Manning, request permission to use toilet paper" or soap, to use these items.
He said he could step outside the tiny space, while shacked, only during 20-minute "sunshine calls," standing under a hole in the ceiling.
He said the conditions became more restrictive when officials designated him a suicide risk, or SR. Then he was forced to wear a smock during the day, strip naked at night, and sleep with a rash-inducing mattress and blanket.
Demonstrating these items, Manning took off his service jacket, cracked open the Velcro of a suicide-prevention smock and put it on. He said the one he was wearing was less rough and more flexible than the one he wore in prison, which came "straight out of the box."
Later in the hearing, a video was shown depicting conversations between Manning and two of his jailers, Gunnery Sgt. Brian Papakie and Master Sgt. Blenis.
In the video, Manning is standing in his boxers, asking how he can get out of prevention of injury, or POI, status.
Through the white noise of the recording, Blenis can be heard telling Manning that his treatment was "not a punitive thing," and said, "I wish I had 100 Mannings."
Manning called Blenis an "exemplary Marine" whom he initially trusted, until the master sergeant told him that his psychologist recommended his POI status.
That doctor, Col. William Hocter
, testified this week that he actually had been urging officials to give Manning more freedom inside the brig.
Manning said he grew distrustful of other people during this period.
He said that he removed his father, Brian Manning, and his acquaintance, David House, from his visitation list because they spoke about their meetings with the press.
Manning said his father spoke to PBS Frontline the day he visited his son in the brig, and promised him that he would not talk to journalists.
When Manning was transferred to Ft. Leavenworth, Kan., he said he found it "awkward" that he was not in shackles, and wondered when he would be forced to wear them again.
He said he realized that conditions had changed for him after a "couple of days."
As direct examination ended, Coombs told him, "Thank you, Pfc. Manning."
Though his supporters shouted, "Stay strong," and "You did a great job," his testimony is far from over, as cross-examination begins today (Friday).