A look into the Bradley (Chelsea) Manning trial

BY: JOHN BOGNA

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In 2010 Bradley Manning, then working as an intelligence analyst, leaked hundred of thousand of documents that he had gained access to through his position to the online organization Wikileaks. Since that time, he has been held in military prisons during the course of his court-marshal and sentencing. Manning’s actions were the catalyst for a still-ongoing national debate on the freedom of speech and the press.

Manning was recently sentenced to 35 years in prison, down from the possible life sentence he was to receive if found guilty of aiding the enemy through his release of documents to Wikileaks, among which were military reports on troop actions in Iraq and a video of an American military helicopter firing on and killing a group of people that included children and two journalists.

In the wake of Manning’s recent sentencing, she (as she has now requested to be identified) has released a statement that she identifies as female, and always has since childhood. Manning now wishes to be identified as Chelsea and have the feminine pronoun used when referring to her. Manning’s sexuality was addressed during her trial in relation to “don’t ask, don’t tell” and the mental strain it caused her while serving in Iraq, but Manning never self-identified publicly as female until after the trail, saying she is moving on to a new phase in her life.

Manning hopes to start hormone therapy as soon as possible to facilitate her transition from a man to a woman. The facility where she is to be held, at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, only offers psychiatric therapy to those who identify as transgender. However Manning’s lawyer David Coombs says he plans to lean on the facility if they do not provide hormone treatment for her.

The stress of being transgender has affected Manning for a while, and is especially evident in a conversation she had with, according to a New York Times article, the person who ultimately turned her in to the authorities: Adrian Lamo. Manning is quoted in the same article saying, “I wouldn’t mind going to prison for the rest of my life, or being executed so much, if it wasn’t for the possibility of having pictures of me plastered all over the world press as a boy.”

Manning’s sentencing coincides with the more recent issue of Edward Snowden’s release of information on government surveillance programs (including the now-infamous PRISM program) to newspapers. It may be that Snowden chose to flee the country after releasing this revelation due to what happened to Manning, at least in part.

Both cases have blistering debate in the media about the meaning of patriotism. Are Manning and Snowden laudable whistleblowers, or are they snitches who should have left well enough alone?  If that were an easy question to answer, we would have moved on from the issue a long time ago. Manning’s actions were motivated by a moral desire to do right. She believed that people had a genuine need to know what was going on in the war our nation had been involved in for almost a decade at the time she released those sensitive reports. People should know what their government is up to. No government should be allowed to operate with complete autonomy independently of its people. The people are what hold it accountable. Speaking from that standpoint, Manning should not have been punished so severely for her actions.

The other side of the argument, however, is that Manning entered into a contract when she entered the military service. She agreed not to disclose the information it was a regular part of her job to analyze and handle. At what point does moral obligation supersede that contract? What is the ultimate counterbalance between the harm of keeping the information secret and releasing it to the public? I respect the fact that Manning chose to release this information and take the heat for it. It shows that Manning genuinely believes she did the right thing. She also did not release the information directly into enemy hands. The prosecution has stated that it was Manning’s aim to “enjoy adulation as a whistleblower” from the public by leaking information. Personally I believe any “adulation” is far outweighed by the court-marshal and 35-year prison sentence.

Then we have the issue of Manning’s sexuality, something I believe should be considered as separate from her actions. I think there is a danger, with the large amount of press coverage, of both her sexuality distracting from the original issue and being treated as some sort of mental illness that influenced her actions. Manning isn’t a rare case. Throughout the “don't ask, don’t tell” debate it was revealed that there are thousands of men and women who are not straight serving in the military. Manning’s actions are her own. She knew what she was doing. I believe her choice was made not on the basis of any mental anguish sustained by being transgender in the military and having to hide it, but because of her belief that people needed to see what was going on.

Private Manning’s trial is currently in the appeals phase, and her lawyer plans on requesting a presidential pardon. It is also possible for her to petition for clemency during this phase of the trail, however it is unclear as to whether she will. As a part of her sentencing Manning’s rank has been reduced to private, she will be dishonorably discharged, and was sentenced to 35 years in prison. Manning will be eligible for parole in seven years.