A Comprehensive Guide To The Bradley Manning Trial


This week marked the beginning of the trial of U.S. Army PFC Bradley Manning.  From protesters who are arguing against perceived unfair treatment of him under military confinement to starry YouTube videos in his support starring the likes of Maggie Gyllenhaal and Russell Brand (!) to some activists who insist that Manning is Transgendered and goes by the name “Breanna,” there is a LOT going on with this and it can be quite hard to take it all in.

Here’s a primer on some of the basics of the trial to help you understand it a bit more:

Who Is Bradley Manning?

Bradley Manning is an intelligence analyst who has achieved the rank of Private First Class in the United States Army.

Why Is He on Trial?

PFC Manning was arrested for allegedly passing classified material to the website WikiLeaks while stationed in Baghdad, Iraq, including videos of separate airstrikes in both Iraq and Afghanistan and hundreds of thousands of restricted army reports.  The
“Collateral Murder” video, as the one set in Iraq is called, depicts a U.S. Attack Helicopter killing 12 civilians and those who attempted to help the wounded.

What Is the Most Serious Charge?

PFC Manning is facing multiple counts, the most serious of which is Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) Article 104, “Aiding the Enemy,” which is potentially punishable by death.

What Does the Prosecution Think?

Prosecutors are portraying Manning not as a heroic whistleblower, but as a deeply unhappy soldier who craved the fame and notoriety that leaking the classified documents would get him.

What Does the Defense Think?

Manning’s defense team insists that he wasn’t a gloryhound, but a troubled and sensitive soldier that was struggling with his gender identity and was deeply disturbed by the daily realities of life on the ground in Iraq.

Is Bradley Manning Gay?

Upon being stationed at Fort Drum, Bradley posted openly on Facebook about his relationship with Brandeis University student Tyler Watkins.

Is Bradley Manning Transgender?

One of the lesser-covered aspects of this trial is PFC Manning’s gender identity.  In 2010, Wired Magazine published chat logs between Manning and hacker Adrian Lamo, who would later reveal to the FBI that Manning had confessed to downloading the classified material and passing it on to WikiLeaks.  In the logs, Manning states that “ 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 boy…”

Why Are People Protesting For PFC Manning?

After the arrest, Manning was placed in solitary confinement under “Prevention of Injury” status.  He was not allowed to speak to other detainees, could only leave his cell for 20 minutes a day, and had to remove his clothing to sleep among other very restrictive rules.  There is some speculation that the “Prevention of Injury” status is due to Manning’s perceived instability due to his gender identity issues, and Manning’s treatment was a cause of international concern, even being addressed by President Obama during a White House press conference.  There are also people who see the uncovering of multiple war crimes in the videos and documents he released as being in the grand tradition of whistleblowing, and that he should be seen as a hero and not a criminal.

Why Should I Care?

For anyone invested in LGBT rights, politics, war, or international relations, the Manning trial is important on many fundamental levels.  For an LGB community that has only recently gained the right to serve openly in the military and a Transgender
community that continues to fight for that right, PFC Bradley Manning is seen, for better or worse, as a representative of our capabilities in the armed forces.  While some call him a traitor and some call him a hero, the trial poses fascinating questions moving forward:  Do we as Americans have the right to information that has been classified?  Do the ends justify the means?  Is it right for the government Manning exposed for war crimes to put him on trial? Everyone has an opinion, and rightly so.  Hopefully the information here will give you a basic insight into the trial and motivate you to do some more research.

Note: PFC Manning is being tried as and referred to as a male in all official court proceedings, so we have referred to him as such for those reasons.  No insult or disrespect to the transgender community is intended.