It seems like new information about the intriguing past of Bradley Manning, the man allegedly behind the first major document dump from WikiLeaks, is surfacing every few weeks. Now, in a new piece for New York magazine, writer Steve Fishman has uncovered that Manning, a gay man, was questioning his gender and dealing with daddy issues.
Manning has been in prison now for over a year, taken in for a number of serious charges, including "aiding the enemy" and illegally transmitting defense information. The information he leaked back in April 2010 includes the now-infamous "Collateral Murder" video and startling data about the number of civilians killed by coalition forces in Afghanistan. Manning has endured terrible mistreatment in detention and has not received a trial.
The New York article paints Manning as an intelligent hacker who was torn about his role in the U.S. military's actions in the Middle East. It parallels this confusion with Manning's alleged gender questioning and homophobic abuse by fellow soldiers. We've already seen information about Manning's long-term boyfriend, been privy to his Facebook page that demonstrated an emotional, but tumultuous, relationship, and read that he marked the CD featuring the classified information as "Lady Gaga."
Using newly uncovered chats with Internet user ZJ Antolak, who befriended Manning online, Freedman explains more about Manning's life:
When the computer was turned off and his Army comrades returned, his superpowers disappeared. The members of his platoon didn't consider Manning a warrior, not like them. He's five foot two and 105 pounds, as "tiny as a child," one former soldier said. Military policy dictated that he hide his sexual orientation, but it probably wasn't a secret to his platoon. "It took them a while, but they started figuring me out, making fun of me, mocking me, harassing me," he wrote to ZJ, "heating up with one or two physical attacks." Though, he assured ZJ, "I fended [it] off just fine."
The harassment didn't get better, and partly because Manning was not allowed to openly discuss his non-heterosexual orientation with anyone because of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, he endured the bullying and took to the Internet to vent about his life to his anonymous online friends.
Meanwhile, Manning's concerns about his sexual identity were intensifying. In November 2009, he made contact on the web with a gender counselor back in the States. When I met the counselor, he was easygoing and upbeat for someone who'd spent hours talking to servicemen who believed they were inhabiting the wrong body. He knew what he was talking about, though. In person, his gender was difficult to discern--he'd begun his transition as a teenager. "Bradley felt he was female," the counselor told me. "He was very solid on that." Quickly, their conversation shifted to the practicalities: How does someone transition from male to female? "He really wanted to do surgery," the counselor recalled. "He was mostly afraid of being alone, being ostracized or somehow weird." To the counselor, it was clear Manning was in crisis.
This new information reveals more than ever before about Mannings' role as an LGBT person in the military. It should fuel the efforts of LGBT advocacy groups who are specifically championing Manning as an important figure in the LGBT rights movement.
The Bradley Manning Support Network has reported that Manning is "increasingly hailed by LGBT activists as a hero," and the Gay Liberation Network has contributed to the "Free Bradley Manning" movement. And despite this support from some organizations, Firedoglake writer Kevin Gosztola reports that most of the LGBT community doesn't know who Bradley Manning is.
But it's not particularly egregious for LGBT people specifically to not know about Manning. He's a hero, yes, but not a hero for the LGBT movement. What's more troubling is that people across the ideological board - even progressives - seem unaware of Manning's important role in WikiLeaks, the push for transparent government, and his incredible mistreatment in prison. His actions should be celebrated by all progressives, and his imprisonment should be continually challenged.
If you haven't been keeping up with the WikiLeaks story or Bradley Manning, check out Glenn Greenwald's excellent reporting and analysis of the issue at Salon. Here's a good summary of Greenwald's take on Manning, from his latest article on the subject, published yesterday as a response to Freedman's New York profile. Greenwald argues throughout the piece that Freedman misrepresents Manning as someone who took drastic actions as a result of psychological imbalance. His actions, instead, should be construed as rational, noble, and good for democracy. Greenwald writes:
There's no doubt that it's illegal for a member of the military to leak classified or secret documents - just as there was no doubt about the illegality of Daniel Ellsberg's leaks, or a whole slew of other acts of civil disobedience we consider noble. The fact that an act is legal does not mean it is just, and conversely, that an act is illegal does not mean it is unjust. Many people enjoy hearing themselves condemn the acts of tyrants and imperial forces in the world. If the allegations against him are true, Bradley Manning knowingly risked his liberty to take action against those acts, in the hope of exposing those responsible and triggering worldwide reforms. It's hard to dispute that these leaks achieved exactly that, but even if they hadn't, his conduct is profoundly commendable, and the world needs far more, not fewer, Bradley Mannings.
Update: This piece originally incorrectly identified ZJ Antolak as a hacker. He and Manning began talking when Manning approached ZJ about his YouTube videos.
img src & src