Bradley Manning’s Real Problem Wasn’t Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

Bradley Manning’s 35-year sentence for leaking government documens is about midway between the 20 years he asked for and the 60 years that prosecutors sought. In pleading for the court’s understanding last week, Manning told Judge Col. Denise Lind that “at the time of the decision, as you know, I was dealing with a lot of issues, issues that are ongoing.”

Now there’s no question that Manning has had a hard time grappling with personal issues. He was trying to come to terms with his gender identity disorder, and he was doing so in the oppressive atmosphere of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Manning told an Army psychiatrist that he had hoped that joining the Army would rid him of his “problem” about gender identity, but instead it just grew worse.

But Bradley’s argument that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell somehow contributed to his making a bad decision is also an insult to lots of gay military personnel who served honorably before the policy’s repeal. Not to downplay the institutional homophobia of the military, but the vast majority of people who served under DADT coped with the policy without breaking the law. DADT was an evil policy, but that doesn’t make it an excuse for bad personal decisions.

The same with gender identity disorder. The military is hardly the ideal place to come to terms with being trans. “The way trans people are dealt with by the military depends greatly on the individual chain of command, the trans person’s psychological stability, how well liked they are by their command, and what sort of performer they are,” the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network notes.

Manning didn’t get the help he needed from the military to deal with his gender identity. But, again, there are trans military personnel who serve honorably under difficult circumstances.

Manning is plainly a troubled person. The odds seemed stacked against him from birth, with an alcoholic mother and a childhood filled with loneliness and neglect. That upbringing made Manning a vulnerable and tormented adult who was looking for stability. If DADT never existed and the military was fine with gender identity issues, Manning would still have been grappling with his personal issues. The environment didn’t help, but Manning’s troubles were internal.

All of this is separate from the question of whether Manning did the right thing. It’s also separate from the government’s treatment of Manning, which was shameful during his early imprisonment. 

Bradley Manning will be eligible for parole in eight years, but the government will want to keep him for the full 30 years. That will be a sad end for an unhappy man, who may never have the chance to find out who he is. But it won’t be testament to the destructive power of DADT.

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  • 2eo

    The problem is rampant militarism and a system that genuinely treats us with absolute contempt, it is out duty to prove to them we are not going to blow up a building, not the other way around.

    A truly sickening indictment of a sickening system, it’s a shame people are willing to sleepwalk into a ultra conservative military dictatorship and they’re celebrating the people who hate them.

  • alterego1980

    This is a good article. It starts to look into why this situation is so sad. Manning turned to the Military for help (“Stucture”) when he should have turned to a professional gay/trans resources. Queerty accurately makes the point that while this is a serious issue for Manning, he acted out in the wrong way and blamed the wrong people by seeking vengeance on the military and his country for not solving his problems. Setting the crimes and hacking aside, this is another call to action to try and help those in need in the LGBTQ realm and not let them slip through the cracks as so often happens. Together with rampant homophobia, There just simply are not enough resources in most rural/suburban areas.

  • LubbockGayMale

    I’m of two minds on Manning. Sure, he served under DADT where he was under pressure to ‘conform to the norm’, but he also knew going in that was the policy. And too many of us have served without betraying the trust he was given in his position, so why does he claim mental pressures made him do this? Sounds like a manufactured defense, something a lawyer dreamed up. I’ll still pity him, and wish him the best in his life from henceforth.

  • balehead

    he wanted to be famous at any cost…..you’ll see a lot more of this soon…

  • Jerry12

    Does Manning think that having mental sexual problems is a good reason to commit treason by giving classified data to entities that are not friends of the USA?

    I am Gay and served in the US Navy at the close of WW2. I then worked in the Military Electronics industry for 16 years with a Top Secret Security classification. It is one thing to be Gay and work for a civilian company. It is quite another thing to work in the Military industrial area when any misstep could be the end. To do something that could harm the USA, just because you cannot accept who you are, is reprehensible. There is no excuse for it.

  • tdx3fan

    Plenty, and I do mean PLENTY, of people have had it a lot worse than Manning and came out of it to be successful, upstanding citizens. Maning needs to own the blame for what he did, and no excuse should seem remotely acceptable.

  • Danny

    Entirely unsatisfying article. The author asserts the proposition that Bradley Manning’s problem was not DADT, but doesn’t offer any evidence to back up that assertion, other than that other people dealing with similar issues didn’t steal 750,000 pieces of classified material. Newsflash: Most people do not have access to ANY classified material, much less classified material that illustrates the duplicity of the American government in dealing with the rest of the world.

    IMHO, Bradley Manning, whatever his motivations for doing what he did, deserves to be pardoned and honored for shining a bright light on some of the dark corners of the US government.

  • sailor374

    I do feel sorry for Bradley.I read a book about him and he joined the military because it was the only way he would ever be able to go to college.He came from a broken home and he really didn’t have very many options.Joining the military was actually a very good choice for him even though he was gay. He got training and a salary and job experience and if he hadnt made such a poor choice,would have seen DADT repealed. I also sympathize with him for his poor judgement and his youth. The U.S Army though had ample warnings about his behavioral problems,poor judgement and yet still gave him a security clearance. There is plenty of blame that can be laid at their feet for this situation

  • Will L

    @sailor374: Coming from a broken home is no excuse. The guy was and is a complete nut bar. He got into the military and could have done quite well for himself if he hadn’t screwed things up. Perhaps he just needs time, like 35 years worth, to reflect on his issues.

  • imperator

    @Jerry12: There’s “no excuse” for his “treason?” How about the “collateral damage” video, which he turned over, wherein the attack helicopter crew murdered civilians, and journalists, and more civilians who came to help the wounded– how about feeling a moral obligation not to continue to be a party to covering that up? How about the dictates of conscience saying “they’re going to hide this repulsive disregard for human life unless someone tells people the truth about how we’re conducting this ‘war?'”

    A rigourous review has found that nothing Manning divulged has resulted in any material harm coming to [i]anyone[/i] except for the so-called moral authority of the United States government, and if that moral authority is founded in [i]any[/i] part upon concealing crimes like the one he exposed– for which they sought to punish him– then that moral authority [i]does not, in fact, exist[/i].

    You may be proud of your service and I won’t fault you for that. My parents were air force and my best friend is infantry (all Canadian, mind you), so I have quite a bit of respect in principle for the military. But don’t let heroic nostalgia blind you to the wrongdoings of your government, or those in its service, and make no mistake– today’s “war on terror” is a far cry from the war you took part in; it’s more about the hegemony of American right-wing dominionists and military-industrial profits than it is about combating fascism. If anything, America’s shifted perilously towards fascism itself– so far that one who pays any heed to history ought to wonder what principles, exactly, it upholds today beyond homeland, empire, and profit.

  • frenchjr25

    Please note that the American Psychological Association has now removed Gender Identity Disorder from the DSM. Being confused about one’s gender is no longer and official mental illness.

  • frenchjr25

    @Will L: He didn’t mess anything up. He did what he thought was right. And he was able to make some positive changes in American government and military actions. He saw records that never should have been secret. And he saw records of severe abuses committed by our service men; men who were not going to be held accountable for their crimes against humanity.

    The biggest question the government needs to be asking is how did people like Manning and Snowden get access to documents the government considered classified. These are both men that had minor jobs in the government and had access to highly classified information.

    But those that hate what Manning did I think have allowed themselves to become hypnotized by the idea that our government can’t do anything wrong.

    Sadly the outcome of this is that the government is going to fight even harder to keep things secret that the public deserves to know about.

  • frenchjr25

    @LubbockGayMale: I do agree with you. The military is not the place to find yourself when it comes to gender and sexual orientation issues.

    But what he did was stupid and brave at the same time.

  • Caleb in SC

    @Jerry12: Well said. DADT was in the process of being repealed when he leaked the classified information. That was no excuse to be a traitor.

  • Derek Williams

    Exposing war crimes Yes
    Betraying sensitive military information that places foreign US troops at risks No.

    Clearly the court thought No.

    Interesting though that President G.W. Bush who declared war on Iraq, plunging the country into subsequent civil war on a pretext proven false was never impeached and has instead had a library named after him and is free to roam the planet.

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