Bradley Manning’s Lawyers Argue That Being Gay Under DADT Was A Factor in WikiLeaks Involvement

Bradley Manning, the gay soldier charged with leaking hundreds of thousands of files to WikiLeaks, some of which were classified by the Pentagon, had his first hearing in court this weekend after 19 months in detention. His hearing is being conducted on an Army post near Washington and presided over by military officials, not a judge or jury. If he’s convicted, Manning could spend life in prison as a traitor.

Although Manning’s defense isn’t denying that he was in contact with Wikileaks, and although investigators did find a DVD of the infamous footage of a US helicopter killing 11 unarmed men in Iraq in Manning’s quarters, Manning’s defense is relying on a different angle of the case. On Saturday, his lawyers claimed that life as a gay man under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell “contributed to mental and emotional problems that should have barred him from having access to sensitive material.”

A major tenet of the defense’s argument is that many of the files leaked by Manning weren’t in fact classified, and didn’t contain information that would harm American soldiers or endanger the government (although lawyers for the prosecution disagree); the files are instead described as “rather benign.” The prosecution did, however, bring evidence into court that one of Manning’s work computers had held over 10,000 diplomatic cables, which were linked to a ‘bradley.manning’ username.

In online chat transcripts released back when Manning’s involvement with Wikileaks was first revealed, Manning confesses to his “confidant-turned-government-informant” that he’s gay along with his turning over of government materials. Parts of the chat transcripts had led some to believe that Manning suffered from gender identity disorder and/or identified as trans; one of Manning’s defense lawyers asked an investigator for the prosecution whether in the course of the investigation they had spoken to “people who believed Manning was gay or found evidence among his belongings relating to gender-identity disorder.” The prosecution remains adamant that questions about Manning’s sexual orientation or gender identity are irrelevant to the case.

“We already knew before we arrived that Pfc. Manning was a homosexual,” Graham said. Prosecutors objected several times to the questions. Kemkes responded that if the government can argue that Manning intended to leak secrets, “what is going on in my client’s mind is very important.”

Back in 2010, before Manning was detained for 19 months without a public trial and made to sleep naked in his cell, we said that:

At its most basic level, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell asks soldiers to lie to their fellow soldiers and superior officers while maintaining a strict moral standard of honor and loyalty in every other respect – unless of course they find out about the lie that their comrades are required to tell, in which case they have to turn their friends and comrades in despite the strict moral standard of honor and loyalty. None of this should ever compromise the intense patriotic dedication they feel towards the US or the army. When soldiers under DADT are already required to lie about their identity or conversely expose their friends in order to satisfy a wildly conflicting narrative of ethics and honor, how can we act surprised when one of them seems to experience some ethical contradictions of his own? …It’s not that this leak was some kind of karmic repercussion for the inequity of DADT, not exactly; it’s more of a chickens-come-home-to-roost moment of watching something come full circle, something ugly and complicated and ethically confusing being born from something, well, ugly, and complicated, and ethically indefensible.

It may be a long shot for Manning’s defense to argue that living under DADT put Manning in enough of a psychologically compromised position that it was really the military’s responsibility to keep him away from sensitive information, and not Manning’s responsibility to keep it confidential. But at the same time, it seems disingenuous at best and deluded at worst for the military to argue that Manning’s (or any soldier’s) sexual orientation is “irrelevant.” How “irrelevant” could it have been if Manning was obligated to keep it secret by the terms of his employment, and if refusing to actively lie about it to his comrades meant he would lose his job? Having a policy specifically denoted to prohibiting any discussion of Manning’s and other gay soldiers’ identities because doing so would somehow pose a threat to the military’s efficacy seems to imply that being gay is in fact very “relevant” to the experience of being in the military.

DADT may finally be over (for the most part), but that doesn’t mean the military can take themselves off the hook for all the years that it was in place — or ignore the way that it impacted America’s soldiers. It took over a year of imprisonment for Bradley Manning to get a public trial for what he’s accused of, and to get an actual verdict on whether he’s guilty or innocent. There’s no judicial body that’s going to hold the US military accountable for what it’s done to its own troops, gay or straight — there are Vietnam war vets still waiting for equal rights for their partners, and not many voices speaking out for them. Regardless of the verdict that Bradley Manning receives, there’s no excuse for anyone in the US military to be allowed to think of gay soldiers’ lives and identities as “irrelevant” ever again.

Before you go! Autostraddle runs on the reader support of our AF+ Members. If this article meant something to you today — if it informed you or made you smile or feel seen, will you consider joining AF and supporting the people who make this queer media site possible?

Join AF+!


Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy." You can follow her on twitter and instagram.

Rachel has written 1142 articles for us.


  1. So because he’s gay, he can’t keep a secret? What a warped line of defence. The obsession with the poor guy’s sexuality is entirely missing the point of this case. This is about the effects of a whistleblow, not about a man’s sexuality.

    • They’re not arguing that he cannot keep a secret because he’s gay, but that he cannot keep a secret because the military was forcing him to be dishonest about other things (i.e. about having gender-identity disorder).

      I’m not sure what my feelings are about this, but at least this argument is less flawed than he’s gay and that’s why he cannot keep a secret. Right?

  2. I would like to live in a world where [homo]sexuality is irrelevant, but clearly we haven’t yet arrived at that utopia. So yes, Manning’s sexuality is a factor because being gay influences how we’re treated and hence how we act. The shame is that other people sometimes get hurt in the process, but Manning himself is not the enemy.

  3. I don’t really follow the line of argument here. I’d love it if someone wanted to explain it a little more to me, because I just don’t get it, which might mean I just haven’t understood it properly.

    Yes, being gay is definitely relevant to the experience of being in the military. But surely that’s not the question the military court is asking, the question is whether Manning’s sexuality is relevant to his decision to provide military information to Wikileaks.

    If there are compelling reasons his sexual orientation was relevant to that decision, then yes his identity is relevant to the trial. If there aren’t, then his sexual orientation is not relevant to the trial. His lawyers are arguing it is relevant because of his psychological condition and the military lawyers dispute their claim. It seems like a question of fact to me, the sort of thing that is legitimately the subject of courtroom argument.

    • i think the logic is:

      gay guy -> DADT -> keeps gayness a secret -> secrets are stressful -> gay guy with secret gayness shouldn’t have had access to sensitive material (which must be kept secret) so, like, it’s kinda your bad, br0

      whether this is sound reasoning (or if i’m inadvertently mischaracterizing it [entirely possible if not likely]) is anyone’s guess. it appears to be a stretch.

      overall my feelings about the issue are: bradley manning did the right thing by whistle blowing. i’m not sure any of the rest of his blowing is relevant. also, war is bad in 99% of all cases. war is the failure of diplomacy, like how kids fight physically because they haven’t been taught to use their words. those are my feelings.

      • Your last paragraph describes my feelings perfectly. It’s a shame the law forces the defence to argue things like gayness instead of being able to simply argue that Manning did the right thing.

        Ok, then I do get what they are arguing. Well, it seems a little silly to argue that secret gayness makes you inherently capable of handling classified information. I am sure there are plenty of secret gay people in the military who are able to handle secret information without their secret gayness getting in the way.

        For their argument to be successful then Bradley Manning’s secret gayness must have been so stressful to him he was psychologically unfit to handle secret information. Maybe it it’s true and Manning’s lawyers can demonstrate it’s true. But it’s not necessarily or ordinarily true, so I don’t have any objections to the prosecution disputing his argument in court.

  4. My feelings about this is that Bradley Manning is a hero for exposing war crimes, and that his being held without trial for nineteen months is woefully unjust. Obviously his queerness (whether his sexuality or gender identity) is relevant in that it must have influenced his psychological makeup, but I just really wish it was possible to simply argue that he was justified in leaking classified documents because the world deserved to know about the moral transgressions of the U.S. military.

    • BAD GRAMMAR. PUNCH MYSELF IN THE FACE. Should be, of course, “My feelings about that are that…”

    • I think Bradley Manning is an ethical hero too. It’s impressive he or anyone had the courage to go against all the brainwashing about how ‘the army/brothers/comrades always come first’ to do what was morally right.
      His situation is pretty close to the one of a political prisoner right now.

  5. Just to clarify, Bradley Manning has revealed multiple times that their issue is Gender Identity Disorder (AKA therapist-ese for trans). That he continues to be ID’d as a ‘gay soldier’ is ignoring this part of Bradley’s issues are not just about being trans and that how he’s being punished is not just about being a gay soldier.

    And no, calling Manning a gay soldier does not cover having GID. And this aspect to Manning’s identity first appeared a year and a half ago at the GLBT site Bilerico.

  6. Being a veteran from the Navy, I have a few opinions about this topic. I am a lesbian and served in the military for almost eight years. My first duty station was a shore side billet (meaning I worked on a base rather than a ship). The type of job that I had required me to have a very high security clearance, on top of dealing with a lot of sensitive information on a constant basis. The time period that I served was the tail end of the Cold War, and also the start of Iraq-Kuwait War. During my two years at my first command I saw a lot of information that would have been ripe for sharing, if I had that mindset to do that. Like any job that you may have in your life, there are things that do not leave the work space. I realize that information back then could not be “leaked” as it can be now, still classified information is still classified information. No matter what information it is!
    I understand that what was on the video was not a very pretty picture of what’s going on over there, never is. I’m not defending what was done, however no one but whomever was in the helicopter knew the whole story, or even part of the story.
    Now that Manning’s defense lawyer is pulling the stress of living under DADT made him do it is crap. I feel that it’s a cop out because they don’t have any other defense. He was in a sensitive position, knew the rules of what he worked with and made a decision to violate those rules. What would you think of him if the information that was leaked led to a family member being killed? Would you think that he was a great hero then?
    This may all read like a rant, and partly is. Thing is, he broke the law and is now having to face that.

    • I agree with you so much! PFC Manning has been glorified for treasonous acts; the divulging of military secrets. Where people get all confused is that they assume the military is in some huge conspiracy that they hide things in classifications. No. I’ll say that again, No. The military classifies things to protect sources (how the information was gotten, usually people’s lives who are actively fighting against a hostile enemy) or to protect men and women from possible attack by keeping troop movements and the like out of the public sphere all together.

      PFC Manning knew that the government was placing trust in him to protect its information. If he truly thought it was over classified (which happens) then an originator can de-classify the material. Believe it or not, all classified documentation eventually becomes public, ALL OF IT, just with enough of a time gap to allow events that the information could have affected to become moot. And the reason he had no clothes was because he made threats to kill himself, so yes, he had his clothes taken away.

      The fact that he is trying to sweep his issues under the rug stating that DADT caused him such mental anguish that he felt the need to leak classified information is enough to rate multiple life sentences. He is deplorable and his attempts to argue DADT brings discredit to any gay/lesbian service member.

  7. Hey Rachel, would it be possible to change Manning’s pronouns to Gender Neutral in this piece and perhaps say queer instead? Perhaps that would simultaneously address the issue of forced outing versus assuming they have a gay identity, or assuming PGP’s?

    This is a tough one because while it is terrible to misgender them it would also be unfair to not give them the space they need to control when they come out.

    just imho

Comments are closed.