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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.

Private Bradley Manning has been a controversial figure since his arrest in May 2010, after being accused of the largest leak of classified documents ever to the website WikiLeaks. Manning is accused of leaking much of the 500,000 documents WikiLeaks published as the War Logs, as well as the shocking “Collateral Murder” video showing U.S military knowingly firing on unarmed civilians from an Apache helicopter.

These leaks provided valuable information about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in a time when war reporting has often been compromised through the practice of embedding reporters within military units. For this act of whistleblowing, Manning faces charges that include “aiding the enemy,” theft of public records, transmitting defense information on the Internet, and computer fraud. If found guilty, Manning could face life in prison.

One rumor has persistently followed Manning: that he is a pre-hormone treatment transgender woman. A year ago, Boing Boing posted chat logs purportedly between Manning and hacker Adrian Lamo in which Manning apparently makes references to a desire to undergo medical transition. In the logs, Manning says that “the CPU is not made for this motherboard” (a reference to the common understanding of transgender people as being “born in the wrong body”), frets about the “possibility of having pictures of me... plastered all over the world press... as [a] boy” and wonders how to “figure out how on earth im going to transition.” From there, besides a typical rubbernecking Gawker reiteration, the story largely officially died, though it continued to circulate online.

Over the weekend, however, New York magazine upped the ante again by publishing a feature article focusing on Manning’s sexuality and gender identity in which an anonymous counselor claims that Manning had talked to him on the web about being transgender:

“Bradley felt he was female,” the counselor told me. “He was very solid on that.” Quickly, their conversation shifted to the practicalities: How does someone transition from male to female? “He really wanted to do surgery,” the counselor recalled. “He was mostly afraid of being alone, being ostracized or somehow weird.”

The story implies that Manning’s supposed sexual and/or gender identities are in some way related to his behavior in leaking the documents. This mode of insinuation suggests that being gay or transgender is “disturbed” or “confused” and causes criminal behavior—a demonstrably false idea. As Glenn Greenwald recently pointed out, “the notion that these reactions to wholly unjustified, massive blood-spilling is psychologically warped is itself warped. The reactions described there are psychologically healthy; it's far more psychologically disturbed not to have the reactions Manning had.”

If, as the saying goes, there’s no honor among thieves, then apparently there is no confidentiality for leakers, either. The American Psychological Association’s ethics code requires psychologists to disclose personally identifying information on their clients only when required by law or when they or the client may be in danger. By contrast, licensed or not, this counselor’s behavior in speaking to New York  is at the very least unethical.

A 2008 U.S. Army Counter-Intelligence report leaked through WikiLeaks declared the intention to pursue the “successful identification, prosecution, termination of employment, and exposure of persons leaking the information.” It is hard not to wonder if the Manning rumors are being fueled by counter-intelligence, for as a form of smear, exposing a person as transgender effectively licenses open season in the media. Lisa Harney's blog Questioning Transphobia says, “if you are trans then your life and your privacy are open for public consumption. If you commit a crime, you are a trans criminal whose crime is based on being trans.