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Book Excerpt, Part II: Bradley Manning, From Boston to Baghdad | The Nation

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Greg Mitchell

Greg Mitchell

Media, politics and culture.

Book Excerpt, Part II: Bradley Manning, From Boston to Baghdad

Yesterday, in the first excerpt from my new book, Bradley Manning: Truth and Consequences, we noted that even after the uproar over the harsh conditions of his current incarceration at Quantico—facing serious charges for allegedly passing classified material to WikiLeaks—few know much or anything about his early life.

After tracing the days of his youth in Oklahoma, and kicking around at low-paying jobs after high school, we pick up the story after he has decided to join the military. The new book is available as an e-book here and print here.

According to Jordan Davis, his friend had always wanted to serve in the army. He “had views about the world,” and some of those views were very “pro-America, pro-Army,” Davis told reporter Ed Caesar of the Sunday Times of London. But he added: “I was a little worried about Bradley joining the army. I think he underestimated the culture of the military.”

He “thought it would be incredibly interesting, and exciting," Davis told another reporter, Denver Nicks. “He was proud of our successes as a country. He valued our freedom, but probably our economic freedom the most. I think he saw the US as a force for good in the world...”

But Manning’s father told a different story when interviewed in 2011 for a PBS Frontline documentary about Bradley. Brian Manning said his son had never wanted to join the military and only signed up after he pushed Bradley to do so. “I didn’t make him,” Manning told Frontline. “I twisted his arm and urged him as much as a father can possibly urge somebody.... because he needed structure in his life. He was aimless.”

While at Fort Huachuca in Arizona for training, Manning was reprimanded for posting messages to friends on YouTube that revealed sensitive information. Still, he gained the status of an intelligence analyst with a security clearance. Next, he was stationed at Fort Drum in upstate New York.

Manning spent the holidays at the end of 2008 in the Washington, DC, area, and announced he had a new boyfriend, Tyler Watkins, who was studying neuroscience and psychology at Brandeis, near Boston. Manning often visited him there. Watkins’s circle included hackers and other information-must-be-free advocates.

Later he met David House, a young researcher at MIT who hails from Alabama, at a conference House organized. “Clearly Bradley was somehow involved in the hacker culture,” House told the Guardian in March 2011. “But he looked a bit like an outsider. Bradley had obviously slept well, he hadn't been up for days on end, his hair was fixed, he had showered. He wasn't dirty, like a typical hacker is.”

According to House, Manning had joined the army with the aim of taking advantage of the GI Bill later. “He told me he wanted to go to college to get a master's in physics and a bachelor's in political science—this is what he was shooting for, this intellectual engagement,” House said. The hacker community, he added, is “a very creative community, very alluring. These are people who seemingly have no limits. When you come in contact with this very empowering culture, it can suck you in.”

In his postings at Facebook, Manning was unusually (one might say, dangerously) open for an active duty gay soldier, with updates such as: “Bradley Manning is in the barracks, alone. I miss you Tyler!” And, “Bradley Manning is glad he is working and active again, yet heartbroken being so far away from hubby.”

In September 2009, however, his relationship status shifted to “single.” An Army probe would later suggest that turmoil in Manning’s personal life, which caused some disciplinary problems at Fort Drum—including shouting at officers and throwing chairs—should have warned superiors not to deploy him to Iraq, especially for a job that would feature accessing classified documents through the Pentagon’s computer system. But they did it anyway, faced with the common staffing problems that come with fighting two wars at once.

Spc. Manning arrived in Iraq in late October 2009 with the 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the 10th Mountain Division. He was handed two dedicated military laptops. One was connected to the Secret Internet Protocol Router Network (SIPRNet), used by the State Department and Pentagon to share information; the other enabled entry to the Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System (JWICS), which manages top-secret dispatches.

His Facebook updates were now rare and careful, such as, “Bradley Manning has soft sheets, a comforter, and a plush pillow.” But in late-November, from Iraq, he posted, “Bradley Manning feels forgotten already.” By his later account (at least according to controversial "chat logs"), he had quickly seen some abuses in Iraq that profoundly troubled him—and he may have already contacted the well-known “whistleblowing” organization WikiLeaks in some manner. In December, a master sergeant who supervised Manning “was so concerned about the private's mental health that he disabled Manning's weapon,” the Washington Post would later report.

Near the end of January 2010, Manning returned to the US on leave, and made his way to Cambridge to see Tyler Watkins and other friends. Watkins would later tell reporters that something seemed to be bothering his friend—what to do about certain classified information he felt the world deserved to see. But did he actually go ahead and leak it? Less than four months later, Manning would be under military arrest and behind bars, in Kuwait.

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