Is “Don’t Ask” to Blame for Bradley Manning and WikiLeaks?

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No single man has made gays in the military look worse than Army PFC Bradley Manning: alleged leaker of hundreds of thousands of classified military and diplomatic documents to WikiLeaks. Anyone found guilty of intentionally weakening our nation’s security is deplorable and deserves harsh punishment. The one thing still irking me about his trial is how Manning’s sexuality has been a point of contention since he was arrested, and his gender identity has been cited as evidence as to why he was unfit for duty.

I know what it was like to serve under “Don’t Ask,” and how isolating its effects were. One of the biggest contributing factors in the case against Manning was his fragile mental state. Battleland’s Mark Thompson said it, so it must be true:

The military never should have let someone as depressed as Manning have so much access to so much classified material.

In the case of Manning, many of the contributing factors leading to his depression could, and should,  have been avoided.

Back when I wrote anonymously while serving under DADT, I documented some of the personal stressors I experienced while serving under the policy. Since my first article was published, universities have taken interest in the topic and have conducted studies on the mental state of LGBT servicemembers in the post-DADT world. Now my question is: if “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” had never existed in the first place, would Manning have felt repressed enough to commit the crimes the government has alleged he committed?

Let’s take a look at the case so far: Manning admits to having a boyfriend back at home, and lacked the personal privacy to connect with him from abroad without facing the public ridicule of a DADT-fueled witch hunt. Reports also indicate he was not very well liked within his unit. He was often bullied for acting feminine, and there are multiple documented cases where the bullying lead to physical violence.

Our military has normal channels to deal with exactly these situations. Having a proper outlet to cope with his sexuality and gender identity — i.e. chaplain, mental health professional, first sergeant — could have been enough to diffuse the ticking time bomb Manning purportedly represented.

Even since the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” no guidance exists as to how to address transgender troops.  In Manning’s trial, evidence of his gender identity– meaning they found pictures of him cross-dressing in his private life, and discovered a female alter-ego he would sometimes use in chat rooms — has been used against him. In the opening days, it was even mentioned that his “gender identity issues” should have been brought to the attention of his commanding officers. This lack of protection and guidance for transgendered servicemembers could still pose a threat to our nation’s security — just as “Don’t Ask” did.

The opinions expressed in this article reflect those of Karl Johnson. His views are his alone and do not reflect the opinions of the U.S. military, its branches, or any organization.