After over two years in captivity, Bradley Manning, the U.S. Army private accused of leaking hundreds of thousands of classified documents to the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks, has testified for the first time since he was arrested in May 2010. Private Manning could face life in prison if convicted of the most serious of 22 counts against him.
During the pretrial proceeding, Private Manning discussed the emotional torture he endured while imprisoned in Kuwait after his arrest stating: “I remember thinking, ’I’m going to die.’ I thought I was going to die in a cage.” The purpose of this hearing is to determine whether the highly restrictive conditions Manning experienced for nine months were justified. The defense claims the restrictions were so punishing that the case should be dismissed.
Two psychiatrists have testified that the brig commander kept Manning tightly confined despite their recommendations to ease them and as part of his testimony, Manning stepped inside a life-sized chalk outline representing the six-by-eight-foot cell he was later held in at the Quantico base in Virginia, and recounted how he would tilt his head to see the reflection of a skylight through a tiny space in his cell door.
His trial was expected to begin in February, but this weekend military judge Col. Denise Lind announced that pretrial proceedings will push the start date back from Feb. 4 to either March 6 or March 18th.
“What’s remarkable is that he still has this incredible dignity after going through this,” says Michael Ratner, who was in the courtroom during Manning’s appearance. “But I think all these prison conditions were — sure, they were angry at Bradley Manning, but in the face of that psychiatric statement, that this guy shouldn’t be kept on suicide risk or POI, they’re still keeping him in inhuman conditions, you can only ask yourself — they’re trying to break him for some reason. The lawyer, David Coombs, has said it’s so that he can give evidence against Julian Assange and WikiLeaks.” Ratner is a lawyer for Julian Assange and WikiLeaks and the President Emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), a non-profit human rights litigation organization based in New York, New York and president of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) based in Berlin.