FORT MEADE: A U.S. Army private facing court-martial on suspicion of leaking secret documents to the WikiLeaks website testified on Thursday 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 that he was initially given little or no information about the charges against him.
"My nights were my days and my days were my nights," Manning said. "It all blended together after a couple of days."
Manning said he was confined to a structure he called a "cage" just eight feet (2.43 metres) square located inside a tent. He suffered a breakdown about a month after his May 2010 arrest when he awoke to find a noose in the cage, he said.
"I remember thinking I'm going to die stuck here in this cage," Manning said. "I thought I was going to die in that cage. That's what I saw - an animal cage."
The private's testimony, which could continue into Friday, came on the third day of a hearing at Fort Meade, Maryland to determine whether his case should proceed to a full court-martial.
Manning has offered to plead guilty to less serious offenses than those with which he has been charged, according to his lawyer.
If Manning's case proceeds to trial and he is convicted of all the security breach charges against him, he could face life imprisonment.
LINKS TO WIKILEAKS
Charges include stealing records belonging to the United States and wrongfully causing them to be published on the Internet and aiding enemies of the United States, 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 Manning, without authorization, disclosed hundreds of thousands of U.S. 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 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 Manning had been in email contact with Julian Assange, WikiLeaks' Australian-born founder.
Nearly six months ago, Assange, who faces extradition to Sweden from Britain for questioning in a sexual molestation case, took refuge in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London.
Assange and his supporters have said the Swedish case against him could be part of a secret plot to have him shipped for trial to the United States and either executed or imprisoned at the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
U.S. officials have denied those assertions. But 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 U.S. criminal charges against Assange.
Earlier on Thursday, Assange played down reports that his health was declining after Ecuadorean officials said he was suffering from a chronic lung ailment.