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Are Rumors Accused WikiLeaks Source Bradley Manning Is Transgender Behind Harsh Treatment?

The implication that Bradley Manning's sexuality has something to do with the crime he's accused of is wrong and dangerous.

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But if Manning is transgender, then he would be far from alone. A recent study from the National Center for Transgender Equality found that 20 percent of the transgender U.S. adult population has served in the military, twice the 10 percent rate of the general U.S. population. Autumn Sandeen, a transgender activist and Army veteran, points out that “a lot of transgender people have served in the military services and haven't engaged in the kind of behavior Bradley Manning has been accused in engaging in. If being transgender was correlative or causative for the behavior Manning is accused of engaging in, we'd see a lot more of this kind of behavior in the military services based on how many trans veterans have served in the military. Arguments that attempt to connect Manning allegedly being trans with Manning allegedly releasing classified documents to Wikileaks in my mind is likely going to result in some sort of fallacious conclusion being drawn.”

Though Sandeen is right that there is little chance Manning’s being potentially transgender influenced the leaking, it is possible that it may be an influence in the severe imprisonment conditions he was subject to after being brought from Kuwait to the Quantico brig. Quantico brig officer Lt. Brian Villiard confirmed to Salon in December that the still untried Manning was subject to 23-hour-a-day solitary confinement and not allowed a pillow or sheets for his bed. In a statement released through his lawyer, Manning detailed the extent of this punitive imprisonment, saying that he has been placed on suicide watch and denied even his glasses. In one particularly harrowing passage, Manning claimed he was stripped naked daily by guards:

"The guard told me to stand at parade rest, with my hands behind my back and my legs spaced shoulder-width apart. I stood at parade rest for about three minutes … The [brig supervisor] and the other guards walked past my cell. He looked at me, paused for a moment, then continued to the next cell. I was incredibly embarrassed at having all these people stare at me naked."

After extensive protest by progressive groups, Manning has been transferred from Quantico to Fort Leavenworth in Kansas earlier this year while he awaits trial. Though Manning's conditions there have dramatically improved (he is no longer stripped nightly, has a pillow and sheet and access) it remains an open question if Manning's treatment at Quantico will ever be subject to inquiry.

Indeed, the kind of treatment Manning experienced at Quantico reads like a milder form of the infamous Abu Ghraib torture. Even with the official repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, the homophobic and transphobic culture among the military may explain this bizarre form of punishment. Right from the beginning of the War on Terror, the conflation between the terrorist enemy “outside” with the GLBT enemy “inside” by the military culture has been clearly in evidence. In 2001, the Associated Press ran a photo of a bomb about to be dropped on the Taliban on which soldiers had painted “highjack this fags.” More recently there has been some controversy over videos that high-ranking Navy officers showed to crews to “boost morale,” featuring homophobic slurs and simulated masturbation and shower scenes.

If Manning was definitively known to be trans (and the Army must surely be aware of the rumors), such treatment would be doubly humiliating given that it is not merely being publicly exposed but being exposed with the wrong body . As Harney points out, “when sent to prison, punishment for trans women is nearly always harsher -- being housed with men, being subjected to sexual violence, being subjected to a complete invalidation of one's selfhood. It's all about violation, about ripping away who we are to expose our transness and dressing it up as spectacle and perversion.”