By Vic Mazzaraco
Originally published on Advocate.com February 14 2012 4:00 AM ET
Nearly two years ago, Army specialist Bradley Manning was arrested and charged with a series of crimes against the U.S. government, including leaking thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks and aiding the enemy. The questions raised by the indefinite detention of a the gay soldier — who has been imprisoned in torturous conditions that violate the Geneva Convention — go to the heart of President Obama's expansion of Bush-era civil liberties violations, like the indefinite detentions of alleged enemy combatants at Guantanamo. Except Manning is not an enemy combatant but an American citizen. And since Manning himself says his actions were spurred by his outrage over the conditions in which he was forced to serve under "don't ask, don't tell," we must ask what impact Manning's sexual and gender orientation have had on his treatment.
As of press time, investigators had yet to make a determination whether to try Manning. Under a law signed by Obama he could be held as an enemy combatant indefinitely. If he is found guilty of treason, he could face the death penalty. Either way, Manning is already the victim of both the Obama administration's war on terror and its homophobic ideology.
It's no surprise that last year 250 legal scholars signed an open letter declaring Manning's treatment unconstitutional. He was kept in solitary confinement for nearly a year, in a constantly lit cell without a pillow, sheet, or window. He was forced to be naked for hours at a time and examined every morning. He was allowed only an hour a day of exercise, and if he stopped moving during that hour, he was returned to his cell. He was denied legal representation as well as visits or conversations with anyone, including military personnel and Congressman Dennis Kucinich, who had made requests to visit with Manning.
But when Manning was transferred from maximum security at Quantico, Va.'s Marine brig to a medium-security facility at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., it was less about ending his torture and more of an indication that he is viewed as an enemy combatant rather than a member of the U.S. military. But Manning was not a spy; he was not working for a foreign government. As Michael Whitney of FireDogLake reported, more than 10 statements by the Pentagon referencing the move indicated that Manning would be detained at Leavenworth for an indeterminate period and that no trial was imminent.
His mental and psychological states have declined rapidly due to his treatment, and in all the celebration over the repeal of DADT, the case of Bradley Manning has faded into invisibility. Sadly, Manning, who was living as a gay man but had expressed a feeling that his gender identity might be female, may be out personally, but his case is the most closeted in recent U.S. military history.
Manning is the forgotten soldier, emblematic of the struggles queer service members face. Alone, attempting to figure out his sexual and gender identities (he spoke with a gender counselor days before he allegedly sent the documents to WikiLeaks), angered and frustrated by his own growing belief that there was no sense to military actions in either Iraq or Afghanistan, Manning was in crisis. Transcripts of emails between Manning and bisexual hacker Adrian Lamo indicate the panoply of emotions he was grappling with as he deliberated over leaking the documents.
For months I read excerpts via WikiLeaks published in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Guardian in the U.K., yet none of those publications' editors or reporters sit in jail cells now. If Manning was culpable for the alleged leak of more than 250,000 classified documents, then why aren't the people who published those documents equally culpable for disseminating them to the public?
The Obama administration has adopted policies of indefinite detention that far exceed any of the Bush administration. As documented in Salon by gay journalist and legal scholar Glenn Greenwald, the only mainstream reporter to have covered Manning's case with any depth or critique of the president and his administration, the Obama administration has been the most secretive and restrictive of civil liberties of any in recent U.S. history.
Manning may become the test case for the new indefinite detention law. His treatment mimics that of detainees at Abu Ghraib, which resulted in prison terms and dishonorable discharges for the soldiers found guilty of that torture. Attempts to bring Manning's case into the light have consistently failed, yet his indefinite detention demands attention, particularly by the LGBT community.
Manning was 22 at the time of his arrest. Other than a few months working as a computer technician, his only job has ever been as a member of the U.S. Army, which he joined when he was 19 and where he trained as an intelligence analyst. He rose to the rank of Army intelligence specialist but was demoted to private first class in 2010 after punching a female officer in the face. His problems in the military began before he was deployed to Iraq. He complained of being bullied for being gay and had several arguments with superior officers, yet he was still deployed, after which he exchanged correspondence with a gender counselor, asserting that he had begun to feel that he was a woman in a man's body. He contacted WikiLeaks after he had written to the gender counselor, in November 2009. His email exchanges with Lamo were later published in Wired magazine, although Greenwald argues that these exchanges were selective, to throw suspicion on Manning and leave Lamo, who reported Manning to the FBI, free from prosecution. A victim of DADT while in the military, Manning has been treated since his arrest in ways that focus on humiliation and gender disruption. At Quantico he was forced to wear a dress-like garment that exposed his genitalia. He was sometimes forced to be naked, with nothing to cover him, exposed to the eyes of every male guard passing by his cell. When asked about this treatment in a press conference in March, Obama noted that the Pentagon had assured him Manning was being protected for his own welfare. By being naked?
Gay men are often called "pussies" and "cunts" in the military. They are often treated like women, who themselves are treated as second-class and are frequently the victims of sexual harassment and assault. The treatment of male detainees at Abu Ghraib also demeaned their sexuality and gender and was found to be torture. The perpetrating soldiers were punished. So why is torture acceptable treatment for Manning stateside?
If Manning was a danger, why wasn't he given a section 8 transfer out of Iraq and into psychiatric care? And if he is mentally unstable now, how much of that instability was triggered by the pressures of having to hide or defend his sexual and gender orientation?
The case of Bradley Manning raises more questions than it answers. What remains nearly two years after his arrest is that the government has no real charges upon which to hold him, but the Obama administration has decided that Manning is a threat and therefore must be held as an enemy combatant until the war on terror is over.
Can the terror ever be over for a gay or transgender person in a military prison? Perhaps not. So far, Manning's fate is an undelivered sentence with no end in sight.