August 16, 2013
By Ronda Cooperstein
Yesterday, August 14, 2013, was the final day of witness testimony in the Bradley Manning trial. It was a day that laid bare his deeply personal and intense struggles, his painful life experiences, and his desperate desire to be helped and, in turn, to help others.
The sentencing phase began last week with the prosecution. Outside, on the Fort Meade campus, it was a week of outdoor parties, picnics, sports and games. The grounds are lovely and its inhabitants live in a country club world. Just down the road, a brief walk from all of the activity is the courtroom.
The prosecution sentencing week was telling in its absence of transparency. For several days, court convened; a witness was called, identified and questioned briefly. The government then requested that the session be closed, and the public was excused. Speaking for me, what was actually revealed last week was the nothingness behind the government claims of serious harm to national interest. I believe the closed sessions hid from the public the extent to which the government was pushing the limits of any actual damage done by the leaks. At the end of this phase, Judge Lind ruled to disallow the testimony that tried to create a timeline of damage far beyond what is considered reasonable, to the government frustration.
This week began with the servicemen and women who served with Bradley being called to the stand. As a result of their testimonies, the dysfunction of this unit is now on full display. One after another, the witnesses exposed the broken chain of command, the lack of concern for Bradley’s mental health and the cruel bullying to which he was subjected. Fortunately, those whose memory fell short were forced to acknowledge the written sworn statements they had given shortly after Bradley’s arrest. One soldier clearly wished to retract past sworn statements where she criticized the unit for its poor leadership and management. After her promotion, she began to see things differently. Judge Lind ended the questioning by asking her if the sworn statements she had made were true or not. She reluctantly stated that they were, and the judge ended the session.
For those who have read any of Bradley’s history, you will know that he was a victim of bullying in his youth. He was different. He was an outsider. He was an easy mark. In the military, it was no different, and he was subjected to taunts and bullying throughout his time of service. One soldier, a friend, testified to him coming out of a door only to have a couple of soldiers forcefully slam it back into him, leaving him stunned. This witness and others helped him to regain his composure, and he struggled on. The recounting of this incident on Tuesday afternoon shifted the narrative and is, in my opinion, the turning point in this trial the moment when the government’s portrait of Bradley Manning as a scheming and deceptive narcissist was swept away.
Also exposed this week were the clinical assessments of Bradley Manning’s mental and emotional condition. Both the military psychologist and psychiatrist shared their knowledge of a young person struggling with complex and crippling issues, and crying out for help. Most significant was his gender identity, but he also suffered as the child of alcoholic parents, born with fetal alcohol syndrome and cut adrift at a young age. Bright, idealistic and principled, he succumbed to what the psychiatrist described as post-adolescent idealism and grandiose ideation, which influenced his decision to take action to expose the truth. Moreover, he really did not know the extent to which he would be prosecuted for his acts, thinking that he may lose his position in the army, but certainly not criminalized.
Once again, the prosecutors tried to revive their fabricated portrait of Bradley Manning, asking and re-asking questions and hoping for an incriminating answer. Stated clearly by the psychiatrist, once and for all Bradley Manning acted on principle. The questioning then ceased.
Casey Major, Bradley’s older sister, shared a life story that is as difficult as anyone might hear, but sadly familiar to many. What is striking is the deep sensitivity to others of both Manning siblings, given the unsettling and frightening experience of being abandoned by their alcoholic father and growing up with a severely alcoholic and suicidal mother. Bradley’s personal story is by now well known to many, but hearing it told by his sister had an emotional impact that surely the judge cannot in good faith ignore.
By now, PFC Manning’s brief statement of apology is well-known. Some have expressed disappointment, but why? Why not honor this choice the way we honor the choice that brought him to where he is today? Just as he sought to save others, he now seeks to save himself from an ugly and undeserved fate. His statement can only serve that end, and I am glad he made that choice.