I thought I was going to die in that cage, says Bradley Manning

US soldier gives evidence at pre-trial hearing after allegedly passing secrets to WikiLeaks

Bradley Manning, the soldier accused of causing the biggest security breach in American history, finally broke his silence yesterday as he gave evidence at a pre-trial hearing, saying he felt like a doomed, caged animal after he was arrested for allegedly divulging secretes to the WikiLeaks website.

Speaking in court after 917 days in military captivity, Private Manning, who was arrested in Iraq, made the analogy in a reference to his detention in a cell in a segregation tent at a US Army outpost in Kuwait. He was later transferred to a base in Virginia.

"I remember thinking, "I'm going to die. I'm stuck inside this cage'," he said when questioned by defence attorney David Coombs. Employing dramatic language, he shared the distress he suffered after being locked up his former colleagues. "I just thought I was going to die in that cage. And that's how I saw it – an animal cage."

The 24-year-old intelligence analyst's lawyers are seeking dismissal of all charges. They claim his pre-trial confinement was unnecessarily harsh, which the US military denies. Officials insist Manning was treated properly, given his classification at the time as an inmate who posed a risk both to himself and others. The military says he was classed as "prevention of injury", meaning he was kept in solitary confinement to prevent self-harm. On Wednesday, a US Navy psychiatrist told the court at Fort Meade, Maryland, that he believed Manning was a suicide risk when he first arrived at the camp.

Pte Manning's testimony came after a military judge accepted the terms under which he could plead guilty to eight counts of sending classified documents WikiLeaks. Those charges could see him detained for 16 years. However, government lawyers could pursue another 14 counts against Manning, but have not yet indicated if they plan to do so.

Manning allegedly leaked thousands of classified documents which acutely embarrassed the US government. Diplomats in capitals around the world were left red-faced when details of their confidential cables about local leaders came to light.

The hearing continues.

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