Feeling outcast and alone in Iraq, Bradley Manning, then a 22-year-old army private, turned to the Internet for solace in early 2010, wanting to share with the world what he saw as the unconscionable horrors of war, an act that resulted in what military prosecutors called one of the greatest betrayals in the nation’s history.
Within months, he was arrested for making public, through the WikiLeaks organisation, the greatest cache of sensitive government information since the Pentagon Papers.
As prosecutors accused Manning of being a self-promoting “anarchist” who was nothing like the tortured man of principle portrayed by his lawyers, supporters around the world celebrated him as a martyr for free speech. But the heated language on both sides tended to overshadow the human story at the center of the case.
That story involved the child of a severed home, a teen bullied for his conflicted sexuality whose father, a conservative retired soldier, and mother, a Welsh woman who never adjusted to life in Oklahoma, bounced their child back and forth between places where he never fit in.
He spent much of his childhood alone, playing video games or huddled in front of a computer when he was living with his mother in Haverfordwest, Wales. He was teased relentlessly there for his foreign ways and began to act out in school.
After several outbursts, his mother sent him back to Oklahoma, where he worked briefly at a computer software store. But several angry clashes with his father — which some friends attributed to his father’s disapproval of his sexual identity — landed him on the streets, living in his car.
Eventually, he made his way into the army. Later Manning met a student from Brandeis University named Tyler Watkins, and fell in love. Some of Watkins’ friends were part of a burgeoning hacker community.
That community, friends said, embraced the young Army private. Manning rebelled quietly, friends said, wearing a dog tag that said ‘Humanist’. Then, surreptitiously, beginning in late 2009 or early 2010, he began downloading thousands of government documents. He considered leaking them to The New York Times, The Washington Post or Politico, but decided to contact WikiLeaks in February 2010, several months into his deployment.
New York Times