Bradley Manning: How Keeping Himself Sane Was Taken as Proof of Madness
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In a theatrical move, Coombs had placed white tape on the floor of the court room in exactly the dimensions of Manning's cell throughout the nine months he stayed in Quantico – 6ft by 8ft (180cm by 240cm). The cell contained a toilet that was in the line of vision of the observation booth, and he was not allowed toilet paper. When he needed it, he told the court, he would stand to attention by the front bars of the cell and shout out to the observation guards: "Lance Corporal Detainee Manning requests toilet paper!"
As Manning walked around the diminutive virtual space of the cell, the thought occurred that in this regard at least he was lucky to be so small. At 5ft 2in (157cm) he was towered over by Coombs as they circled each other in the courtroom.
Manning related how he tried to keep healthy and sane within the tiny confines. For the first few weeks of his confinement in Quantico he was allowed only 20 minutes outside the cell, known as a "sunshine call". Even then whenever he left his cell – and this remained the case throughout his nine months at the marine brig – he was put into full restraint: his hands were handcuffed to a leather belt around his waist and his legs put in irons, which meant that he could not walk without a staff member holding him.
"I'm not a great fan of winter, it's the solstice and it's dark," Manning said at one point. "I'm a fan of sunshine." So it was particularly hard for him that there was no natural light in his cell.
"If you took your head and put it on the cell door and looked through the crack, you could see down the hall the reflection of the window," Manning told the court, adding that "there was a skylight. You could see the reflection of the reflection of it if you angled your face on the door of the cell."
At night the light situation was even worse. Because he was considered a possible risk of self-harm throughout his time at Quantico, he was under observation throughout the night, with a fluorescent light located right outside the cell blazing into his eyes. While asleep he would frequently cover his eyes with his suicide blanket, or turn on to his side away from the light, and on those occasions, sometimes three times a night, the guards would bang on his cell bars to wake him up so they could see his face.
He sought solace wherever he could find it. Occasionally he was allowed to read a book his family had sent him. "I read a lot of philosophy, a lot of history. I'm more of a non-fiction reader though I like realistic fiction like John Grisham. Richard Dawkins would be an interesting author."
He was forbidden from taking exercise in his cell, and given that he was allowed out of the cell for at most one hour a day for the entire nine months at Quantico, he started to be creative about finding a way around the prohibition. "I would practise various dance moves. Dancing wasn't unauthorised as exercise."
He would also practise what he called resistance training – pretending to be lifting weights in his cell when he had no weights. "I would pace around, walk around, shuffling, any type of movement. I was trying to move around as much as I could."
As a man who from a young age has been noted for his bright intelligence, and who until his arrest was passionate about interactive computer technology and computer games, Manning also found an unconventional way to keep his mind sharp in the cell. He would make faces at himself in the mirror, the one bit of furniture in the cell other than his bed, sink and toilet.