FORT MEADE, Md. — An Army private charged in the biggest security breach in U.S. history testified Thursday that he felt like a doomed, caged animal after he was arrested in Baghdad for allegedly sending classified information to the secret-spilling website WikiLeaks.
Speaking publicly for the first time about his May 2010 arrest and subsequent confinement, Pfc. Bradley Manning addressed the nearly two months he spent in a cell in a segregation tent at Camp Arifjan, an Army installation in Kuwait, before he was moved stateside.
"I remember thinking I'm going to die. I'm stuck inside this cage," Manning said in response to questions from defense attorney David Coombs. "I just thought I was going to die in that cage. And that's how I saw it — an animal cage."
Manning was later sent to a Marine Corps brig in Quantico, Va., in July 2010. His lawyers are seeking dismissal of all charges, contending his pretrial confinement at Quantico was needlessly harsh.
Manning's testimony came on the third day of a pretrial hearing at Fort Meade, the sprawling Army post between Washington and Baltimore.
The compact, 24-year-old intelligence analyst looked youthful in his dark-blue dress uniform, close-cropped hair and rimless eyeglasses. He was animated, often swiveling in the witness chair and gesturing with his hands.
Speaking in emphatic bursts, sometimes stumbling over his words, Manning said that at Quantico, where he was held for nine months in highly restrictive maximum custody, "I started to feel like I was mentally going back to Kuwait mode, in that lonely, dark, black hole place, mentally."
Manning said he never sank that low but grew frustrated after five months in which he spent up to 23 hours a day in a windowless, 6-by-8-foot cell.
"It was pretty draining. Tiring," Manning said. He described it as "boredom. Complete, out-of-my-mind boredom."
Earlier Thursday, a military judge accepted the terms under which Manning was willing to plead guilty to eight charges for sending classified documents to the WikiLeaks website.
Col. Denise Lind's ruling doesn't mean the pleas have been formally accepted. That could happen in December. Those offenses carry a total maximum prison term of 16 years.
Government officials have not said whether they would continue prosecuting Manning for the other 14 counts he faces, including aiding the enemy. That offense carries a maximum penalty of life in prison.