Updates to our Terms of Use

We are updating our Terms of Use. Please carefully review the updated Terms before proceeding to our website.

Saturday, March 2, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Gender Politics in Manning-Wikileaks Case

MANHATTAN (CN) - The psychologist who wrote the study that Pfc. Bradley Manning consulted while considering a sex change urged observers to stop speculating about "anecdotal" evidence as the 24-year-old soldier's court-martial enters the discovery phase.

During hearings in December 2011, Manning's exploration of a female identity nearly eclipsed the substance of the case, which seeks to determine whether he sent more than 700,000 confidential government files to Wikileaks.

Wikileaks divided its trove of confidential documents into several categories: "Cablegate" for diplomatic cables; Iraq and Afghanistan incident reports in "War Diaries;" and "Collateral Murder," for a July 12, 2007 video of a Baghdad airstrike that killed 11 people, including two Reuters employees.

While Manning never admitted being the source, his attorney David Coombs spent less time presenting his client as a whistleblower, or wrongly accused, than as a victim of military discrimination and isolation because of having a female alter ego, "Breanna," during the time of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

In a private chat with Adrian Lamo, a convicted hacker turned government informant, "Breanna" allegedly wrote, "i wouldn't mind going to prison for the rest of my life, or being executed so much, if it wasn't for the possibility of having pictures of me ... plastered all over the world press ... as [a] boy."

Coombs said that Manning consulted ex-military psychiatrist Dr. George R. Brown's 1988 study, "Transsexuals in the Military: Flight Into Hypermasculinity," which profiled 11 transgender soldiers who shared a "striking similarity."

"They joined the service, in their words, 'to become a real man,'" Brown wrote.

In a telephone interview with Courthouse News, Brown said he was not surprised that Manning read that study because it is the most accessible document available on the subject.

"If you Google 'transsexual' and 'military,' very little comes up," Brown said. "Two publications in the peer-reviewed journals come up on this topic, and I'm an author on both of them."

Of the more than 120 studies he has written, Brown said, "Flight into Hypermasculinity" was one of his earliest and most-cited.

He added that he makes no assumptions about its readers, including Manning.

"Obviously, I have not interviewed him, or her," Brown said. "I don't have any firsthand knowledge of Pfc. Manning's gender identity or sexuality. Those are not objectively observable things. They're subjective, personal issues that may or may not be shared with others by the individual. There are many people who explore various aspects of their own sexuality or gender identity or gender role, and may explore various sites on the Internet."

Rainey Reitman, an activist with the Bradley Manning Support Network, echoed those sentiments in a recent article for the gay newspaper, the Washington Blade.

"By and large, we are dealing with evidence that has not been established as fact," Reitman wrote. "We can look at some Google searches found in forensic evidence, a smattering of late-night private chat logs, and potential testimony from those in whom Manning may have privately confided."

Though Reitman titled her op-ed, "Feminist, trans activists should support Bradley Manning," a spokesman for the Transgender American Veteran's Association (TAVA) said the organization has no intention to back Manning.

"The fact is there are more than a million gay and lesbian people living who have served since World War II to present, and we have estimated at least 100,000 transgender veterans," TAVA spokesman Denny Meyer said. "Despite all of our discrimination, I don't think that it occurred to any of us once to sell out our country because of that.

"We're not supporting him," Meyer added, "or her."

Without commenting on the case, Brown said he was also concerned that Coombs has used Manning's gender identity as a legal defense.

"Having spent many hours in federal courtrooms working with this issue with judges in fairly high levels, I don't understand this defense," Brown said.

Brown said he was called to testify in the case of "one very competent officer in the Air Force" who was accused, in the military's words, of "perversion," two years short of retirement.

"Someone took a picture of her in the parking lot in a dress, and turned it into the Office of Special Investigations," Brown said.

At the trial, he testified as an expert witness, "No, this person does not have a perversion," but the court rejected his expertise.

Brown said that the military's fear of another transgender client was so intense that it caused a Cold War-era nuclear submarine to surface, in 1989.

"A nuclear submarine during the Cold War would go underwater for extended sea duty, and they would not come up for anything. If you needed an appendectomy done, you would get it done on the sub.

"A seaman was found cross-dressing on the sub. Boy, they came to the surface quickly, and they sent him to me," Brown said.

He worried that the defense strategy in the Manning case could hurt the strides that have been made since that time.

"It would really be counterproductive, and it would be counter the general movement towards depathologization of transgender identity worldwide," Brown said.

Brown said he and other psychologists have urged the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual to replace "Gender Identity Disorder," or GID, with "Gender Dysphoria," to describe symptoms of stress and depression some transgender people face while transitioning.

In December, Coombs indicated that he regretted using the GID diagnosis to defend his client.

"When someone looks into a mirror, and they feel that the gender they are looking at is not who they are, that is not a disorder," Coombs said. "That is a reality."

Reitman, from the activist group, said she believes that Coombs resorted to the GID defense because the military barred him from calling witnesses who would testify that the leaks did not harm national security.

"We're seeing the dregs of the defense," Reitman said. "I really do believe that the defense wants to go to court and argue that this information was overclassified, but they can't bring those witnesses to the stand."

Coombs will have another chance to argue for these witnesses, as the court-martial heads toward discovery.

"In so many ways, it's those tiny hearings that will probably only be a blip in the news cycle, which will be instrumental in deciding whether [Manning] gets a fair trial," Reitman said.

Those proceedings begin Thursday morning.

Categories / Uncategorized

Subscribe to Closing Arguments

Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.