FT. MEADE, Md. (CN) - Pfc. Bradley Manning heaped praise on what he called the "very professional" staff of his Marine Corps prison in Quantico, Va., but said that the orders that they carried out were abusive.
Manning, accused of being the source of the biggest intelligence leak in U.S. history, took the stand for the first time in his preliminary court-martial proceedings on Thursday afternoon. He testified about his first 11 months in pretrial confinement, after he was arrested at Forward Operation Base Hammer in Iraq May 2010.
Days later, he was sent to Camp Arifjan in Kuwait, then sent to Quantico, where he spent about nine months, starting on July 29, 2010.
After reports surfaced that he spent 23 hours or more a day alone in a windowless 6-by-8-foot cell, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture called his treatment "cruel, degrading and inhuman," and human rights groups joined with some politicians in calling for his restrictions to be eased.
If prosecutors do not prove these restrictions were necessary, Manning could win a sentencing reduction if he is convicted, or charges could be dismissed - though that is considered unlikely.
On the second day of Manning's testimony, the lead prosecutor, Maj. Ashden Fein, confronted him about the compliments he showered upon Quantico staffers and the Marine installation as a whole.
In forms he signed roughly every week, Manning often stated that the guards treated him "very professionally" and said he had "no problems" with the facility.
When Fein told him that one form said that the guards acted "professionally," Manning replied, "They stopped [writing down] the 'very,'" but he said it.
The high-stakes direct examination had odd moments of camaraderie between Manning and his prosecutor, over shared military experiences.
In once case, Maj. Fein noted that brig staff gave him new underwear and T-shirts that he requested.
Manning said, "They still smelled like Iraq."
That remark made Fein chuckle, along with the spectators.
Answering a question about "reveille," Manning said, "I was groggy. It was zero-500 in the morning, sir."
"I understand, sir," Fein replied, nearly sighing. "Unfortunately, I understand."
As the court clock struck 11:23 a.m., Maj. Fein asked Manning if he wanted a "comfort break."
Pfc. Manning said that his bladder could withstand seven more minutes of questioning.
Maj. Fein was not able to wait that long, announcing, "The United States requests a [brief] comfort break," well before the clock struck 11:30 a.m.
During cross-examination by his attorney, David Coombs, Manning said that his compliments about his guards' professionalism were sincere. He said the guards "never spoke degradingly" to him.
"They go by what is written in the books," Manning said. "They very infrequently deviate."
He said the primary problems were the orders that they carried out, not that they broke regulations.
But internal Quantico emails, on the other hand, show staffers making several demeaning comments about Manning.
The brig's Judge Advocate General wrote couplets
in the style of "Green Eggs and Ham" making light of the decision to force Manning to remove his underwear on suicide watch.
On Sunday, Master Sgt. Craig Blenis said he received an email referring to Manning's underwear as "panties," and said he may have used the term, too. He downplayed the comment by saying he sometimes uses the same term for his own underwear.
Blenis acknowledged sending an email telling other staffers that he rejected a package sent to Manning close to his birthday out of security concerns, lack of prior approval for the parcel, and because "we felt like being dicks."
In January 2011, Manning's weekly forms began changing slightly, as he noted that he had starting filing grievances challenging his prevention of injury, or POI, status. He entered the brig on Suicide Risk, or SR, forcing him to strip naked and use a special smock, blanket and mattress.
"This needs to be changed," Manning said he told the reviewing board. "I'm not suicidal."
Manning said he never told visitors about these concerns because he knew their meetings were monitored. He told one visitor that Quantico was "Pretty good. Not bad. It's not Oz."
He told another, "It wasn't that bad. Like the people in the Victorian Age, because you simply sit back down and think a lot."
He said he wanted to avoid retaliation from those monitoring him and did not want his family to be concerned.
Manning claimed he was forced to sign so-called "Voluntary Forms" agreeing to give up certain brig privileges, which he called an act of coercion that violated regulations.
Though the Manning's testimony in this round of hearings is limited to his pre-trial confinement, Maj. Fein managed to briefly admit questioning related to Manning's talking about the charges against him.
The military judge, Col. Denise Lind, allowed the prosecutor to discuss the subject because she found it relevant to a key defense argument.
Manning has described his time in Kuwait as an anxiety- and hopelessness-induced blur. He said he did not remember making two nooses out of bed sheets and sandbag strings, but he remembered seeing the sandbag string noose after the fact.
Fein said he was lucid enough to have his aunt relay a message on his Facebook page.
Manning managed to contact his aunt and have her post, "Some of you may have heard that I have been arrested for disclosure of classified information to unauthorized persons."
The post included a link to a video titled "Collateral Murder," the name WikiLeaks gave to a video of a Baghdad airstrike. The government did not release the unclassified video to Reuters, two of whose employees were killed in the strike.
Despite this post, Manning said, he generally wanted to keep details about the case away from the press and the outside world.
"I want a proper court-martial," Manning said. "The court of public opinion is not where I want this to all to take place."
The trial, scheduled to begin on Feb. 4, 2013, has been postponed until March.