April 24, 2023

Bradley Manning’s Treachery a Symptom of Poor Leadership

I’m an Army veteran – a former Signals Intelligence Analyst, specifically. I joined up after 9/11 and did my bit for 5 years. I’ve been out of the military for a while now, but I think about my experiences nearly every day.

I’m also a progressive democrat, lucky to live in one of the most liberal cities in the country, if not the world. I compost, I use water-saving shower heads and fluorescent light bulbs, eat organic things when they’re on sale, vote for public transportation and higher taxes (gasp!) and meet various other liberal criteria. I do not, however, own a pair of Birkenstocks. Yet. They look comfortable but I just can’t make the leap into that level of hippie-dom.

Because of my liberal tendencies and an unfortunate habit of forgetting to unsubscribe from email blasts that all seem to read, “Call Your Congressman About (Insert Liberal Cause of the Moment),” I get a lot of mail in my inbox about Bradley Manning. Most of it starts with something like this: Free Bradley Manning! To a lot of folks on the left, Bradley Manning is some kind of whistleblower avatar, an embodiment of the struggle for truth against the evil Obama police state. Or Bush police state. Depends on who sent the e-mail. Nobody has floated the kid for president, but he was selected to be the Grand Marshal of San Francisco’s Pride parade for a while, an unfortunate decision that was thankfully nipped in the bud.

I think that I have a bit of credibility when I say in response to the endless stream of “free Bradley Manning” emails that pollute my inbox: Bradley Manning is a traitor. Period.

He’s not a hero, or a “whistleblower.” He’s a traitor, a despicable, petulant, opportunistic, cowardly traitor, who only after his treachery and arrest has latched on to his gender identity struggles as if being a gay or trans man in uniform during the dark days of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell somehow justified his crime (a massive slap in the face to every LGBT soldier I served alongside). Right now people who know the particulars of the law far better than I do are preparing to destroy him in court, so I won’t dwell on that portion of the ongoing saga. I’m not qualified. I will be glad to see him vanish into the bowels of a military prison, and if they hang him, I won’t mind.

What I’d like to offer up is this question: Why don’t we know more about the Non-Commissioned Officers and Commissioned Officers in Manning’s life? The fact that this case even exists is an illustration of just how bad the military can be when senior enlisted soldiers and officers fail to do their duty – fail to weed out the people who just don’t belong in the military.

Full disclosure: When I was a junior enlisted soldier, fresh out of training, I wasn’t exactly beloved of my supervisors. Late, lazy, scatterbrained, opinionated…I definitely wasn’t a criminal, but I was a problem. Luckily, good Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs) in my units noticed that I required their professional assistance, and helped me grow and mature, until by the end of my time in the service I was actually doing a pretty good job. I wasn’t the best soldier ever, but I certainly wasn’t the worst, and that’s because my supervisors were attentive and interested in seeing me succeed. I even made the rank of Sergeant before I got out for good, and found the things that I could do on behalf of my soldiers as an NCO very rewarding.

That’s the way the military is supposed to work. It’s part of what soldiers mean when they talk about camaraderie. The fact that Manning even had the opportunity to do the harm he did is a crime almost as bad as the act of treason itself. The NCO Support Channel and the undeservedly vaunted Chain of Command failed to do what they are supposed to do. Manning’s leaders are almost as guilty as he is, and by any fair standard they should be encouraged to find employment outside of the military, where their lax attitude and aversion to actually commanding won’t put American lives at risk.

Manning had a long record of insubordinate, rude, and bizarre behavior. From a revealing article in the Army Times:

“Among the claims made during the fifth day of an Article 32 hearing here: Manning threw a screaming tantrum in front of his noncommissioned officer; flipped over a desk and attempted to grab a rifle; and dropped into the fetal position when reprimanded by his NCO.”

That is a condensed version of the sort of antics that Manning’s chain of command tolerated, and therefore encouraged and supported, in an obviously substandard and deeply troubled soldier. You don’t have to search very hard to find references to his frail mind, weak will and violent tendencies. He never should have made it out of a recruiter’s office, much less to a combat unit.

A key take-away from this article is that his immediate supervisor was a Specialist – a junior enlisted rank without any real authority that is often thrust into a leadership role without much training or backup. This Specialist did all she could do in the face of Manning’s outrageous behavior: she reported Manning’s continued outbursts to a senior NCO, where in a sane world the madness would have stopped. But Manning was never stopped. The senior NCO in this equation, a Sergeant First Class Paul Adkins, never followed through on seeking punishment for Manning, and the details of how Manning was counseled – what action was taken to correct him — following each bizarre explosion are hard to find.

This shows a serious lack of leadership on the part of the commissioned officers in Manning’s unit, who should have been kept abreast of any behavioral issues in the unit – and I mean any! Either the commissioned officers were ignorant of Manning’s explosions, which is unforgivable, or were aware but disinterested, which is equally unforgivable. More likely, they were worried that drawing more attention to Manning’s tantrums would bring negative scrutiny upon them from their own superiors, something any junior officer wants to avoid if they plan on making the military a career.

Each infraction in Manning’s growing and wholly negative service record – including punching a superior-ranking soldier in the face while deployed to a combat zone, an offense that used to rate instant death  – should at the very least have pulled him out of mission-related work on its own merits in preparation for non-judicial punishment or a full court martial. In any quality unit, Manning would have been dishonorably discharged and kicked to the curb, where he belongs. Instead, disgruntled, violent, furious, and depressed, he was allowed to remain in the Army, as if he was still a valuable asset rather than a threat.

Perhaps this has something to do with the command culture of the 10th Mountain Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team. Perhaps it has more to do with the command climate in Manning’s company. It might even have to do with the times – the Army in the mid-2000s was in desperate need of soldiers. We issued waivers to enable criminals and the mentally ill to enlist, and thus watered down the quality of our military with cretins like Manning. Every soldier I know who served post-9/11 and through Iraq knows another soldier who should never have enlisted, but did, thanks to the reduced standards of the Bush-era Army, and too often those soldiers’ “quirks” were overlooked so that officers could keep their units full, and thus appear functional and combat-ready… on paper. So, to the senior officers at who dumbed-down the entry requirements: Manning is partially your fault as well. Thanks, fellas. Hooah.

In any case, the information about why those who had the information and authority to properly deal with Manning chose not to is hard to come by. More details will surely emerge as his trial continues. Soon it won’t be possible for folks on the left to hide Manning’s deeply flawed character beneath the the leaked documents that he never even took the time to read.

When we hang Manning, it would be good to know that the careers of his enablers, failed NCOs and failed officers, are just as dead as he is.

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