Even as we watch the close of the Iraq war – or at least our direct, military involvement in it – one of the lingering stories which came out of the conflict continues to unfold. Accused traitor Bradley Manning has finally begun his trial, with a pre-trial hearing taking place at Fort Meade army base in Maryland on charges that he leaked hundreds of thousands of classified documents. The expected five day proceeding will determine whether or not Manning will go on to a full court martial.
His defense is apparently trying a different tactic, claiming that Manning never should have been given access to the material in the first place.
His defence lawyer, David Coombs, highlighted emails his client had sent to a superior officer explaining that confusion about his gender identity was impacting on his ability to do his job.
Investigators admitted they had found evidence that Pte Manning had created an online alter ego called “Breanna Manning”.
The soldier had also reportedly assaulted a superior, turned over a table, damaged a computer and on another occasion was found “curled up in a ball”…
The defence says Pte Manning was suffering from stress, as a homosexual soldier at a time when soldiers in the US military could not be open about their sexuality – under the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which has since been repealed by US President Barack Obama.
His defence team is also expected to argue that little harm came of the leaks, and that their release was in the greater public interest.
I’ve been following this story for a long time and have sat through numerous conference calls put on by his supporters and his defense team. This seems to represent a dramatic shift from what we’ve been hearing all along. Daniel Ellsberg (of Pentagon Papers fame) has become Manning’s biggest cheerleader and has been positing all along that Manning was some sort of hero, blowing the whistle on alleged wrongdoing and serving a “higher cause” than following his orders. Now, however, it seems more like they’re going with some sort of insanity defense.
Of course, it’s hard to blame them for having to come up with something to try. Manning is facing charges of Aiding the Enemy during a time of war, which can bring the death penalty. (Though the Army is still insisting that they’re just pushing for life in prison, at least for now.) But one thing seems clear: nobody is even suggesting at this point that he didn’t release the information in violation of his orders. Only that he may have been too “disturbed” to have been trusted with the material in the first place.
Now, I’m neither an attorney nor a psychologist, but somehow I was under the impression that we weren’t treating sexual orientation or “gender alignment” (whatever that means) as “diseases” any more, right? So Manning may be under the impression that he’s a female? Fine by me. Then she still took it upon herself to unleash secret material, possibly endangering the lives of fellow soldiers and intelligence operatives in the field – again… allegedly, until such time as the charges are proven at court martial. I suppose I’m just not clear on why that makes any difference.
By the end of this coming week we should know if we’re moving forward to court martial, as well as when and where it will happen. We’ll keep you updated.
Addendum (Ed): I think this is less a defense than a sentencing strategy. It won’t hold up as an insanity plea, even if a court-martial has any such option, so it looks more like they’re stipulating that the evidence will prove Manning did what the Army alleges. This is almost certainly their idea of mitigating circumstances in order to get a lower sentence for Manning, although Jazz’ point on the sudden embrace of gender issues as mental illness is still very, very salient indeed.