US private 'confined to cage'
A US army private facing court-martial on suspicion of leaking secret documents to the WikiLeaks website testified yesterday he was confined to a "cage" in the early days after his arrest in 2010 and thought he would die there.
Bradley Manning, in his first public comments since his arrest in Iraq, said his isolation led to a rapid decline in his awareness of his surroundings.
He said he was initially given little or no information about the charges against him.
"My nights were my days and my days were my nights," Pte Manning said. "It all blended together after a couple of days."
Pte Manning said he was confined to a structure he called a "cage" 8 ft (2.43m) square, situated inside a tent. He suffered a breakdown about a month after his May 2010 arrest, and guards later found a noose in the cage.
Pte Manning had made the noose but failed to recall he had done so because he was so disoriented, he said.
"I remember thinking, I'm going to die stuck here in this cage," Pte Manning said. "I thought I was going to die in that cage. That's what I saw - an animal cage."
The private's testimony came on the third day of a hearing at Fort Meade, Maryland to determine whether his case should proceed to a full court-martial.
Pte Manning has offered to plead guilty to less serious offences than those with which he has been charged, according to his lawyer.
If his case proceeds to trial and he is convicted of all the security breach charges against him, he could face life imprisonment.
ALLEGED WIKILEAKS LINKS
Charges include stealing records belonging to the US and wrongfully causing them to be published on the internet and aiding enemies of the US, identified by prosecutors as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula - an affiliate of the militant network founded by the late Osama bin Laden.
Prosecutors have alleged that Pte Manning, without authorisation, disclosed hundreds of thousands of US diplomatic cables, military reports and video of a military helicopter attack in Iraq in which two Reuters journalists were killed.
WikiLeaks has never confirmed that Pte Manning was the source of any documents it released.
In pre-trial litigation, prosecutors have presented testimony that legal experts say could be used to build a case that Pte Manning had been in email contact with Julian Assange, the Australian-born founder of WikiLeaks.
Nearly six months ago, Mr Assange, who faces extradition to Sweden from Britain for questioning in a sexual molestation case, took refuge in the Ecuadorean embassy in London.
Mr Assange and his supporters have alleged the Swedish case against him could be part of a secret plot to have him shipped for trial to the US and either executed or imprisoned at the US detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
US officials have denied these assertions. They have acknowledged that a federal grand jury in Alexandria, Virginia, has been collecting evidence about WikiLeaks and some of its activists. Officials have not ruled out US criminal charges against Mr Assange.
Earlier yesterday, Mr Assange played down reports his health was declining after Ecuadorean officials said he was suffering from a chronic lung ailment.