The Army kid who seemingly was responsible for one of the worst national security breaches in U.S. history is, to quote the poet Kris Kristofferson, “a walking contradiction,” who isn’t quite sure who or what he is.
Pfc. Bradley Manning is accused of delivering thousands of classified documents to an Internet creation called WikiLeaks, a self-styled crusader for truth and justice whose founder is up to his own neck in legal difficulties and may be of more interest to the American government than Manning.
In fact, there is indication that if the Justice Department could work out a deal with the kid to spare his life or a forever term in the brig to help bring down WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange, it would do so.
Some of this reportedly became clear in a preliminary hearing to determine whether there is enough evidence to court-martial the 24-year-old soldier who is having trouble figuring out whether he is a man or a woman, at times apparently preferring the latest Paris creation to his uniform. And while he has been described as an accomplished intelligence analyst, one thing seems clear at least: He should never have been in a position to handle the nation’s secrets.
During the course of his enlistment, Manning revealed enough unsettling information about himself to his Army handlers to have been a chapter in a budding psychologist’s doctoral thesis. In fact, before he went off to Baghdad with his unit, he had told his immediate superior, a master sergeant, that he was having sexual identity problems and included a picture of himself in a dress.
Whatever damage was done, a major contributor has to be we of the press who leapt at the chance of receiving the documents from WikiLeaks. There were several major outlets chosen by Assange and his cohorts. As a defender of openness in public affairs most of my life and who deplores the continued classification of historic documents well beyond what should be accepted, that is not easy to say. But this case is not the Pentagon Papers, but about sending out current state-classified documents during war time, no matter how Manning tries to cloak his actions in nobility.
It would not be easy to sympathize with Manning should he be tried and found guilty. But one has to believe he was crying out for some help and was ignored.
Dan K. Thomasson is a former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service.