The Bradley Manning on Court Martial is a 25-year-old hero or traitor, depending on who you talk to in the United States.
His court martial is set to go on for several months, at Fort Meade, Maryland, which houses the US Cyber Command headquarters and the National Security Agency, among other top defence institutions; sympathisers are keeping vigil outside.
Manning was an intelligence analyst working near Baghdad when he was arrested. Earlier this year, he pleaded guilty to many of the charges against him, but has said he acted out of conscience; he wanted to “spark a domestic debate over the role of the military and our foreign policy in general”.
A video he passed to the online portal WikiLeaks, which makes secrets public, shows an American helicopter killing civilians by mistake in the Iraqi capital. WikiLeaks called this “Collateral Murder”.
The US said the material brought into the public view by Manning, and carried by newspapers worldwide, threatened military and diplomatic sources. Much of the evidence which the court martial will hear is classified.
Phillip Carter, senior fellow at the Center For a New American Security [sic], said: “There has been an effect on US policy that is hard to calculate, and that, in my view has had a pretty significant damaging effect on our relationships with the countries whose cables or whose discussions have been disclosed by way of WikiLeaks.”
Manning was born in Oklahoma, is physically small – 5’ 2” or less than 1m 60cm in height – and is gay; his parents divorced; he joined the army at 19, and was allegedly bullied and considered for discharge as unstable.
However, trained in intelligence, he was cleared for security access to classified information. Whatever the defendant’s emotional or psychological state, critics say that employing him as it did in a theatre of war reflects doubtful judgement on the part of the military.
Bradley Manning has become a peace icon to many Americans, and an icon for those demanding truth about their government’s conduct of affairs abroad.