After nearly ten months pretty much in the dark—often literally, in near-solitary confinement in the Quantico brig—Pvt. Bradley Manning finally received massive mainstream media attention last week. Harsh prison conditions, including forced nudity, for the man accused of leaking hundreds of thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks finally drew widespread condemnation on the editorial pages of major newspapers and other news outlets, and from many others.
Activists and bloggers had raised the issue for months to little avail until Hillary Clinton’s chief State Department spokesman, P.J. Crowley, joined them, leading to Crowley’s forced exit—and sparking widespread outrage.
But how much do we know about how Manning, his legal case and incarceration reached this point? Most people still know little. My book Bradley Manning: Truth and Consequences—the first book about him—was published yesterday as an e-book here and print here. Below is the first excerpt from the book .
Bradley E. Manning was born on December 17, 1987, in Crescent, Oklahoma, a town of a little more than a thousand people in the central part of the state. If the name of the town sounds familiar it’s probably because it was once the site of the Kerr-McGee nuclear fuel processing facility that became famous thanks to Karen Silkwood, a young technician and union activist there who informed the Atomic Energy Commission about radiation hazards at the plant in the summer of 1974. Frustrated by the lack of response, she decided to leak documents to a New York Times reporter. After a union meeting in the town’s Hub Cafe on November 13, 1974, she left to meet him in Oklahoma City.
She never got there. Silkwood died when her car struck a culvert, and the cause has been debated ever since. The crash was portrayed ambiguously in the 1983 film Silkwood (starring Meryl Streep and Cher in Oscar-nominated roles). Did Silkwood simply doze off? Or was her car rammed from behind by a Kerr-McGee goon? Friends claimed she had received several threatening phone calls that autumn. The documents and binder intended for the Times reporter, perhaps in her Honda at the time of the crash, were never found. In any event, her death brought significant attention to problems at the plant, including the misplacing of 44 to 66 pounds of plutonium. Kerr-McGee closed the site in 1975 and Crescent’s population has dropped by about one-quarter since.
Crescent residents still argue about Silkwood today: Hero or political malcontent? Straight or gay? Murder or accident? And what exactly was in her “leak”?
A couple of decades after Silkwood’s death, Manning grew up with his family out in the countryside in a two-story house near the end of a gravel road. As a technician for five years in the Navy in the 1970s, Brian Manning was stationed for a time at Cawdor Barracks, a U.S. base near Haverfordwest in Wales. There he met Susan Fox, who lived nearby. After marriage, they moved to Crescent, from where Brian commuted to his tech job with Hertz Rent-a-Car in Oklahoma City. Susan gave birth to a daughter, Casey, and then in 1987, Bradley arrived.