In February of 2009, I was contacted online by Private Bradley Manning, who has been implicated in the release of classified material to Wikileaks. He found me via my YouTube videos, and we spoke on several occasions until August of 2009. I haven't been in touch with him since then. Bradley first reached out to me because he was interested in the topics I discussed and felt that we were of a similar mindset. He talked to me about his upbringing and various experiences growing up, and told me about his work as an intelligence analyst with the Army. He did express some frustration at having to work within various regulations while doing his job, but this didn't seem to be a major problem for him, and I got the impression that he was relatively comfortable with his position.
Even though he spoke about living under Don't Ask, Don't Tell, and being attacked by his platoon for being gay, it seemed like he was making the best of his situation. He told me the Army was a diverse place full of people of every race, religion, and sexual orientation. He took pride in his work, even bragging about it at times. As he told me, he just wanted to make sure that everyone would get home to their families safely. He did say that he had to delete his blog and his YouTube channel for security reasons, and that he was sometimes an anonymous source for some of his friends, but at no time was there any indication that he was planning on leaking classified documents. As far as I know, he didn't begin doing so until several months later. To me, he never seemed like the kind of person who would do that. I lost touch with him after I changed my screen name, and I only recognized that he was the one who had been arrested after I saw his username in his conversations with Adrian Lamo. I have not been in contact with the authorities, or Adrian Lamo, or Wikileaks.
In March of this year, I was approached by a reporter with New York magazine who was interested in doing a story about my conversations with Bradley. That story has been published today. I provided them with our logs because I wanted them to see a different side of Bradley. I will be releasing the unredacted logs next week so that everyone can read them. After all of the stories portraying him as mentally unstable and revealing his problems at home and in the military, I felt it was important for people to know that there was a time when he seemed satisfied with his life. He had his struggles and hardships just as we all do, although I've come to learn that his difficulties ran deeper than I was aware of. But he also seemed like an everyday guy, someone who didn't stand out as a threat, and someone I never expected to do this.
In particular, I find it deplorable that some have attributed his alleged actions to his sexuality or his gender identity. There are thousands of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people around the world who serve their country with honor. They have not done anything like this, and who they are is not even remotely a reliable indicator that they would pose some kind of security risk. It's clear that Bradley was facing a variety of issues that were much more significant than simply being gay, and reducing all of this to his sexuality is extremely misleading. I'm also very disturbed that one of his counselors would apparently reveal private information about his gender identity. What they talked about is an intensely personal matter, and definitely not something to be broadcast to the entire world without his consent. If that is the case, this is highly unprofessional and a severe violation of trust.
Furthermore, the conditions under which Bradley was detained at Quantico are nothing short of outrageous. The extreme isolation in solitary confinement, forced nudity, and deprivation of even the most basic amenities may very well constitute a form of torture as recognized by various legal bodies. This treatment was blatantly inhumane and contrary to the recommendations of the brig psychiatrist. Bradley has not even been convicted of a crime, yet he was subject to indefensible punishment that can easily lead to permanent psychological trauma. There is no excuse for this. Likewise, it was clearly inappropriate for President Obama to declare that Bradley "broke the law" before his case has even gone to trial. That is the venue in which it will be determined whether he broke the law - not by the president's proclamation.
At the same time, I find that I can't entirely agree with the movement calling for Bradley to be released. While some have argued that his actions would be covered under the Military Whistleblower Protection Act, I have to wonder whether this would be a viable defense. The Act is meant to protect servicemembers who report violations of the law. Although this may encompass the "Collateral Murder" video from Iraq which apparently shows the unlawful killing of civilians, as well as certain activities revealed in the war logs and diplomatic cables, it seems inevitable that not all of the leaked material is incriminating. Much of it, while certainly interesting, is merely embarrassing, or just mundane. While I don't know what process Bradley used to select the documents he allegedly chose to release, it seems implausible that he could have identified criminal wrongdoing in all of the hundreds of thousands of cables and war logs. His actions appear to have been mostly indiscriminate rather than targeted.
There is a reason why this is against the law. We don't know what's in the documents that Wikileaks and the press have chosen to withhold or redact. In this case, it's fortunate that the material was sent to them and could be examined before being released. Someone else could have just as easily posted it all on a public website or torrent, without making any effort to remove potentially dangerous information. While many feel that the release of these files has turned out to be positive for the world overall, it's troubling to think that the mass leaking of classified material is always something for us to look the other way on.
But whatever the outcome, Bradley deserves a fair trial - he's already been deprived of a speedy trial, and the effects of his prolonged confinement may have caused irreparable damage to his mental well-being. Regardless of what he might have done, he is a person, and he has rights. Everyone does. I still find myself wishing I had kept in touch with Bradley when he was considering whether to do this; perhaps things would have gone very differently for him. Against all odds, I hope that he'll be treated well, and I wish him the best.
July 4, 2011