Sunday, December 18, 2011

Did the man behind explosive Wikileaks disclosures want to be a woman?

The man behind the Wikileaks disclosures, which tested U.S.-Mexico partnership

He sometimes dressed like a woman, went by the online name Breanna, and was interested in gender identity issues. That's what testimony at a criminal pretrial hearing for U.S. Army Pvt. Bradley Manning, 24, indicated yesterday. Manning was arrested in 2010, and was charged with multiple offenses under the U.S. military code, including the unauthorized delivery of classified materials to a third party.

The Article 32 proceeding, the armed forces equivalent of a preliminary hearing or grand jury investigation, is being held at Ft. Meade, Maryland, under heavy security. Manning has been charged with 22 counts, including "collaborating with the enemy," and faces life imprisonment if convicted.

Manning is accused of turning over tens of thousands of sensitive U.S. documents to Wikileaks, an organization which publishes, online, information received from anonymous whistleblowers. In early 2010 WikiLeaks began releasing classified U.S. diplomatic cables sent to the State Department by 275 U.S. consulates, embassies, and diplomatic missions worldwide, between 1966 and February 2010. Many of the 250,000 cables contain sensitive analyses of international situations, as well as diplomats' assessments of events and officials in the countries where they were based. The cables have embarrassed the United States, complicated its diplomatic relations with several countries and in some instances severely stressed old friendships. Nowhere is that more evident than in the arena of U.S.-Mexico affairs, where a former American ambassador was forced to resign earlier this year over confidential comments he had made to Washington about Mexico's anemic drug war efforts. The last WikiLeaks cables were released in Sept. 2011, but because of their size -- over 260 million words -- it may take years to analyze them all.

According to news accounts, one of the files Manning which uploaded to Wikileaks is a controversial 2007 video of a U.S. helicopter attack against a group of men in Iraq, 11 of whom were killed by machine gun fire. The military has maintained that the helicopter crew had reason to believe the men were armed insurgents, preparing to launch an assault against U.S. forces. In fact, none of the men were combatants and none were armed. One of those killed was a journalist covering the conflict. A child was also seriously inured in the attack. The video is widely available on the internet, and has provoked fierce criticism of American military tactics in Iraq.

As Manning's Article 32 hearing entered its second day, an Army investigator testified that he was aware that the private sometimes used the name "Breanna Manning" during online computer chats. Evidence established that Manning maintained a file containing gender identity disorder articles and materials in his military living quarters, and may have once been photographed while dressed as a woman. There was also testimony that Manning was prone to emotional volatility and occasional sudden outbursts, sometimes directed at superiors. He frequently fought with fellow soldiers, and when in front of his computer screen reportedly lapsed into long periods of silence, refusing to respond to anyone. When questioned as to why Manning had not been removed from his Army intelligence unit, his commanding officer testified, "We needed the work. We needed people." Several witnesses described Manning as a "computer whiz," and excellent at his work.

Searches of Manning's overseas military quarters, as well as his aunt's home in Potomac, Maryland, which he listed as his U.S. residence, turned up multiple laptop computers, hard drives, thumb drives and devices which connected his equipment to military computers, from which he allegedly downloaded the documents which were turned over to Wikileaks. Investigators allege that all of the events occurred in 2009 and 2010, when Manning was based in Baghdad.

The Article 32 pretrial hearing will resume and probably conclude next week. If the presiding military judge finds probable cause that crimes have occurred, Manning will be bound over for trial and his case will be referred to an Army general court martial. When he is not required to appear for legal proceedings, Pvt. Manning is being housed in a maximum security unit at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, with severe restrictions on his activities which have raised complaints of human rights violations by some supporters.

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