A military judge on Tuesday found gay U.S. Army private Bradley Manning not guilty of aiding the enemy, the most serious charge lodged against him following allegations in 2010 that he leaked hundreds of thousands of classified military reports and diplomatic cables.
At the conclusion of a court martial proceeding that began in June at Fort Meade, Md., Army Col. Denise Lind found Manning guilty of nearly all of the other charges filed against him, including six counts of violating the U.S. Espionage Act. All of the charges stemmed from his alleged transmittal of the classified documents to the dissident, whistleblower group Wikileaks.
The verdict came after Manning pleaded guilty earlier this year to 10 of the 22 counts filed against him. Experts in military law said the charges on which he was convicted carry a combined maximum sentence of 136 years of confinement in a military prison, although they expect the judge to hand down a much shorter sentence.
Had he been convicted on the aiding-the-enemy charge, he could have faced life in prison without the possibility of parole.
LGBT activists following the Manning case dispute press reports that surfaced at the time of his arrest in 2010 that his motive for leaking the classified information was related, in part, to his anger over the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell law, which banned gays from serving openly in the armed forces.
Transgender advocates have also expressed skepticism of a claim by one of Manning’s defense attorneys that his action was due, in part, to his personal struggle over his gender identity. The attorney and others who know Manning noted that he referred to himself for a short period of time with a female name and downloaded information over the internet about gender identity disorder.
“I don’t see that his identity has anything to do with what he did,” said Maryland transgender advocate Dana Beyer. “His sexual identity, however you want to define it, is completely irrelevant.”
Beyer’s assessment appears to be shared by virtually all of the national LGBT advocacy organizations, which have either remained silent on the Manning case or have said Manning’s actions should not be condoned and don’t reflect the views of the LGBT rights movement.
That view surfaced in the news in the spring of this year when the San Francisco LGBT Pride committee rejected a proposal to name Manning as a grand marshal for the city’s Pride parade.
Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT political organization, told the Blade this week that HRC would have no comment on the Manning verdict.
Spokespersons for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), which monitors media coverage of the LGBT community, did not respond to a request for comment by press time.
D.C. gay attorney Philip Fornaci is among the small corps of LGBT activists who have joined opponents of U.S. policies in the Middle East and elsewhere that have supported Manning and helped raise money for his legal defense.
Supporters argue that Manning is a whistle blower who courageously released information showing a flawed and illegal U.S. foreign policy to enable the American public to pressure the government to change those policies.
“While the national LGBT advocacy organizations shamelessly shower President Obama with praise for allowing openly gay men and women to enlist in the military, their complete silence on the Manning case is indefensible,” Fornaci said in an Aug. 6, 2012 commentary in the Blade. “If Manning did in fact leak information to Wikileaks as he is accused, he has displayed enormous courage.”
Presenting a far different perspective on Manning was R. Clarke Cooper, former executive director of the national gay group Log Cabin Republicans. Cooper, a combat veteran of the Iraq War and current civilian intelligence officer in the Army Reserves, penned a Blade commentary in December 2011 calling Manning “a traitor to the United States of America.”
Responding to early reports, which have since been disputed — that Manning might seek to use his opposition to Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell as a defense for leaking classified documents — Cooper called such a defense a “betrayal of all gay and lesbian service members past and present.”
He added, “Whatever his reasons or excuses, Bradley Manning does not deserve the sympathy of the LGBT community.”
Peter Rosenstein, a gay Democratic activist and supporter of the Obama administration, expressed a similar view opposing LGBT support for Manning.
“I don’t believe the fact that Manning is gay has anything to do with his case,” Rosenstein told the Blade. “What he did was wrong, maybe even treasonous. Making him a gay hero as they tried to do in San Francisco is absurd.”
Shortly after his 2010 arrest, the publicly viewable part of Manning’s Facebook profile listed the Washington Blade as among his ‘favorite’ pages along with several other LGBT-related websites, including the Human Rights Campaign, gay then U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), and a site pushing for repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.
The anti-gay Family Research Council cited reports of Manning’s backing of gay rights causes to support its strong opposition to repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t tell.
D.C. gay blogger John Aravosis reported that no evidence was found to show Manning leaked classified information because he was upset over Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell or supported gay rights.
A national group called the Bradley Manning Support Network, whose members have corresponded with Manning and members of Manning’s family, has said Manning’s motive for releasing classified documents was a desire to correct what he believed to be a harmful U.S. foreign policy.