“God knows what happens now. Hopefully worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms... I want people to see the truth... because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public.”
These words are believed to have been said in an online forum by the man behind the greatest security leak in American military history. But the picture of Bradley Manning, who was detained a year ago in connection with the WikiLeaks revelations, is that of a mentally fragile intelligence operative, who was regularly evaluated for psychiatric disorders according to an exclusive film produced by the Guardian on Saturday.
Sunday will mark the one-year detention of Mr. Manning, now 23 and held at a military jail in Kansas. He faces 34 charges and if convicted he could be imprisoned for 52 years.
Yet, according to the Guardian film, his supervisors periodically issued warnings about his mental health, calling it fragile and unstable and he was even being discharged in 2009 until they decided “to give him another go” said one former army mate. Mr. Manning was first sent to Boston where he began befriending computer students at the prestigious MIT and became part of, what one such student described as, “hacker culture” where one talks of self-empowerment through technology.
Life was not always peachy for Mr. Manning who was “a messed up child” with dreams of becoming an IT super power but unable to attend college because of funding until he opted for a military career—for which he stood out like a sore thumb.
He was bullied throughout his military training; at 5’2 and openly gay, he was constantly picked on by his colleagues or superiors. One former colleague of his, who spoke to the Guardian on condition of anonymity, remembered witnessing a time in which Mr. Manning was so aggressively bullied that he wet himself.
So it is a surprise that this “runt” was packed off to a military outpost in Iraq where computer analysts were sorely needed. Especially since his officers wrote in his assessment prior to be shipped off that Mr. Manning was “showing signs of instability” and that he was a “risk to himself or others.”
Two months after his arrival in Iraq, officers removed his gun from him, saying he was a danger, according to his lawyer.
It is equally surprising that security was as lax as it was at the Iraq base, as the Guardian investigation shows after speaking to several of Mr. Manning’s colleagues from that post. Any of the 3,000 soldiers posted at the base could access sensitive computers using passwords which were posted on “yellow sticky notes” on the PCs.
According to the Guardian investigation, if soldiers saw a PC with a red wire going into it, it meant it was on SIPRNet, which showed footage of helicopters attacks, also known to them as “war porn” or “war TV”—and it was hypnotic to watch.
One military officer at the base said soldiers used SIPRNet for entertainment.
Such footage and then cables would be released by WikiLeaks and cause Mr. Manning’s downfall.
After Mr. Manning was given a strict warning for punching a female officer in 2009, and then demoted before being told he would be discharged, he chatted with a well-known hacker about the classified documents—after which the hacker alerted US intelligence operatives about their conversation.
In that online conversation, Mr. Manning allegedly tells of how easy it was to take information out, how blank CDs were used to transfer information without anyone suspecting—almost as if no one cared. He himself seemed surprised at the ease with which he could move information out.
Since the furor over WikiLeaks which has caused a great deal of embarrassment to US officials, Mr. Manning has been the sole recipient of official ire, with the military almost absolved of any role it may have played in lapses that led to the disclosures.
The Defence Security Service is investigating the screening processes that led to Mr. Manning being deployed to Iraq but many analysts see that as too little too late.
According to the officer who did not want to be identified, “They never should have trapped him in and recycled him in [to Iraq]. Never. Not that mess of a child I saw with my own two eyes. No one has mentioned the army's failure here – and the discharge unit who agreed to send him out there.”
The reality is that the US was, and remains, at the tether end of a war in Iraq that it was finding difficult to find willing participants to engage in.
While Mr. Manning paid the ultimate price for that, he is also regaled as a hero for his action and there are calls from all corners of the world led by his family that his trial be held in public. After widespread protests against his treatment in the military prison being likened to torture, his jail conditions have said to improved—he has been shifted to a medium custody security which affords him more rights.
His supporters include US law-makers including Dennis Kucinich the Democratic congressman from Ohio. The British Embasssy in Washington DC is also said to be involved after the Guardian discovered that Mr. Manning is a British citizen by dint of his mother being Welsh.
Earlier this month Mr. Kucinich in a statement said that he “would continue to press through Congress for answers to a number of questions: Why was Manning treated the way he was in Quantico that was similar to torture? Who was responsible for that treatment, and what's going to be done to ensure those individuals are held to account?"
Only time will tell whether Mr. Kucinich--and the rest of the world--will get to hear the answers.
(Muna Khan, Editor of Al Arabiya, can be reached at: email@example.com)