FORT MEADE, Md. -- An Army private charged with sending reams of classified information to the secret-busting website WikiLeaks testified Thursday that his jailers at a Marine Corps brig answered his complaints about "absurd" restrictions by tightening the screws.
Pfc. Bradley Manning testified five hours on the third day of a hearing at Fort Meade, between Baltimore and Washington, D.C., to determine whether his treatment at the Quantico, Va., facility was so punishing that it warrants dismissal of his case. The hearing continues today with prosecutors likely to cross-examine the 24-year-old intelligence analyst.
Pvt. Manning, speaking publicly for the first time since his May 2010 arrest, said he got so used to leg irons and being locked up 23 hours a day that when he was finally transferred to medium-security confinement at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas in April 2011, he felt uneasy moving freely around the cell block.
"There was the sense of, 'OK, I know they're going to put the hammer down on me soon,' " Pvt. Manning said.
Besides being classified "maximum custody," Pvt. Manning was subjected to additional restraints during his nine months at Quantico because he was either on suicide watch or considered at risk of hurting himself or others. Commanders maintained the extra restrictions despite repeated recommendations by brig psychiatrists that they be eased. They included scratchy, suicide-prevention bedding and sometimes having all his clothing, eyeglasses and reading material removed from his cell.
The military contends the treatment was proper.
Pvt. Manning testified that he angered brig commander Chief Warrant Officer 2 Denise Barnes when he vented his frustration.
"There was a word, I think it was 'absurd,' " Pvt. Manning said. "That was my opinion of how I see the restrictions at that point."
He said he got frustrated spending up to 23 hours a day in a windowless, 6-by-8-foot cell.
"It was pretty draining," Pvt. Manning said under questioning by defense attorney David Coombs.
At one point during his testimony, Pvt. Manning donned a dark-green, suicide-prevention smock resembling an oversized tank top made of stiff, thick fabric. He said it was similar to one he was issued in March 2011, several days after Quantico jailers started requiring him to surrender all his clothing and eyeglasses each night as a suicide-prevention measure. This occurred after he told them -- out of frustration, he said -- that if he really wanted to hurt himself, he could have done so with his underwear waistband or flip-flops.