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.