By PHILIP FORNACI
During the second week of July 2012, Pfc. Bradley Manning endured a sixth round of pretrial evidentiary hearings in preparation for his eventual trial for allegedly leaking information to Wikileaks. The most famous gay soldier in the U.S. military, Manning faces a possible life sentence, or even execution. Physically unimposing — standing barely five feet tall and 100 pounds, this young gay soldier was joined in the hearing room by a handful of committed supporters, but shamefully, no one from any LGBT advocacy organization.
Manning was arrested in Iraq in May 2010, after a government informant reported a series of Internet chats with someone he identified as an American soldier in Iraq, “BradAss87.” The military has asserted, without verifiable evidence, that Manning is BradAss87. In chats with the informant, BradAss87 indirectly took credit for leaking the so-called “Collateral Murder” video to the whistleblower website Wikileaks.
The graphic video footage shows American soldiers in Iraq laughing while gunning down civilians on a Baghdad street — including two Reuters reporters and several children. Based on these chat logs, Manning was taken into custody while on duty in Iraq. Subsequent leaks to Wikileaks of thousands of politically embarrassing U.S. diplomatic cables were later attributed to Manning. Despite administration statements that the cables and the video had no national security impact, Manning was charged with aiding the enemy, among other offenses.
Manning has remained incarcerated for the ensuing two years, with months of further imprisonment before he will be tried. For the first 10 months of incarceration in 2010-11, the military subjected him to torturous conditions in a maximum-security brig. Manning was held under constant video surveillance, 23 hours per day in solitary confinement. For much of this time, he was forced to appear naked at “parade rest” in front of his cell for morning “inspection,” his legs spread and genitals displayed in full view of officers. This sexually humiliating treatment, rife with homophobia, is similar to reported practices in the infamous American prison camp in Iraq, Abu Ghraib.
The military’s treatment of Manning is undeniably a hate crime. He has been singled out for abuse — what the United Nations has characterized as “cruel and inhuman treatment” — for his alleged whistle blowing, yet the perverse sexual humiliation and degradation inflicted upon him is inextricably linked to his sexual orientation. In an attempt to “break” Manning, to get him to divulge information about Wikileaks (which he likely does not possess), the specialized torture regimen focused on isolation and sexual humiliation.
When the mainstream media cover the Manning case at all, reports tend to highlight his sexuality and paint him as unstable and weak. PBS’s “Frontline” special on Manning devoted significant time to Manning’s coming out struggles. Similar reports appeared in the New York Times and The Guardian. New York magazine emphasized Manning’s gender identity struggles, describing him as “disturbed” and unstable. The link between Manning’s sexual orientation and his alleged offenses is presented in virtually all mass media accounts as pathological. It is somehow inconceivable that Manning could have any motivation beyond psychological weakness for releasing to the world massive evidence of the U.S. military’s lawlessness.
While the national LGBT advocacy organizations shamelessly shower President Obama with praise for allowing openly gay men and lesbians to enlist in the military, their complete silence on the Manning case is indefensible. This is particularly true in light of Obama’s repeated endorsements of the brutal and homophobic treatment doled out to Manning. But the persecution of Manning is a “gay issue” not simply because his abuse at the hands of the military and the mass media has been decidedly and viciously homophobic. If Manning did in fact leak information to Wikileaks as he is accused, he has displayed enormous courage. He is a role model for how gay and lesbian service members should behave in the face of violations of the U.S. Constitution by the government entrusted with defending it.
As more gay men and lesbians enter the military, they will encounter the same kinds of horrors Manning saw in Iraq, witnessing episodes of torture, murder and unchecked violence against civilians. Their responses will reflect their own moral principles, in part shaped by a heightened sensitivity to oppression as a result of their own experiences. In the new era beyond “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” Manning is a model of what a strong and proud gay soldier should be, but he has yet to receive the support of the broader LGBT community he deserves.
Beginning Aug. 27, Manning will have another series of pretrial hearings at Ft. Meade, Md. At long last, the Washington-Baltimore LGBT community should show up in force to support him and demand justice for one of our own.
Philip Fornaci is a D.C.-based civil rights attorney who has attended many of the Manning hearings at Ft. Meade. Reach him at Philip.firstname.lastname@example.org.