Who Is Bradley Manning?

Originally published on May 9, 2011 12:11 pm

Bradley Manning is the young man accused of the largest national security information leak in U.S. history. He allegedly turned over classified documents and videos to Wikileaks. Host Michel Martin speaks with Ellen Nakashima about her article about Manning in this week'sThe Washington Post Magazine.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

MICHEL MARTIN: I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

MARTIN: Coming up, we're going to have two conversations about incarceration in this country. It's not the easiest thing to talk about, but this country locks up more people per capita than just about any other country in the world. We're going to talk about what happens when people get locked up. In a few minutes, we're going to go behind closed doors to learn about the Men's Central Jail in Los Angeles - where conditions are so bad, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, that the ACLU wants the place closed down. And we'll also hear what the people who run the Men's Central Jail have to say about that.

But first, we'd like to open up the pages of the Washington Post Magazine - something we do just about every week to find interesting stories about the way we live now. Today, we want to talk about Bradley Manning. The name Bradley Manning is, by now, familiar to many. That's because he's the young man suspected of the largest national security leak in U.S. history. He's accused of turning over classified documents and video to the website WikiLeaks, which then published the material.

MARTIN: Manning has also been in the news more recently because it's been revealed that while he was being held in the brig at Quantico Marine Base in Virginia, he was subjected to 23 hours of isolation a day in a 6-by-12-foot cell. Manning has since been transferred to a less-restrictive Army facility at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

But who is Bradley Manning? Washington Post staff writer Ellen Nakashima has written a profile of him that appears in this week's Washington Post Magazine, and she's with us now to tell us more about it. Ellen, thanks so much for joining us.

ELLEN NAKASHIMA: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: You've been covering this story for some time now, and you had the opportunity to talk to a lot of Bradley Manning's relatives and friends. So could you just tell us a little bit about who he is, what kind of person he is?

NAKASHIMA: What I found was that Bradley Manning is clearly a bright and gifted young man. He had straight A's in high school, in elementary school, and won the science fair three years in a row. And by age 13, he was altering code in computer games. But as he grew older, he also had to contend with a father who was often absent, a mother who drank too much. He grew up gay and non-religious in a conservative, small town. He was a nonconformist, a youth with political conviction and a fragile sense of self. So when he landed in the Army, in a culture that didn't celebrate rule-breaking, it was a volatile mix of circumstances.

MARTIN: Your piece makes it clear that he was troubled. He was in a lot of pain, that he was clearly suffering from a number of emotional issues - you know, quite apart from the stress of being a gay man in the military under the "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

NAKASHIMA: Right.

MARTIN: Which is quite apart from it - that he was clearly having, you know, issues; that there were times when he would like, stare off into space. He'd be found at work in, you know, curled up in a fetal position.

NAKASHIMA: Yes.

MARTIN: He acted out kind of physically - struck a fellow soldier for no apparent reason. I think the question a lot of people have is: Why, then, was somebody who's clearly having emotional problems, for whatever reason, given access to classified material?

NAKASHIMA: Right. I think that's one of these significant questions that still needs to be answered, that the Army is conducting an investigation into whether his superiors failed to properly discipline him. When they noted that he was having some emotional and behavioral problems, did they turn a blind eye to it because, in fact, they needed intelligence analysts in Iraq? He was clearly bright.

And secondly, they're also being investigated for failing to run a secure - what they call SCIF, Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, where the analysts worked on information on the classified networks.

MARTIN: And, finally, before we let you go, as I think many people know, the conditions of his confinement have also become a cause c�l�bre for many activists. And so I wanted to ask if you have any sense of what his conditions are now, and if you have any sense of what his mental state is now.

NAKASHIMA: Yes. Well, he was recently moved from the Marine brig in Quantico, Virginia, to an Army facility at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. It's a brand-new facility for pretrial detainees. And my understanding is, he is in a much better situation now. His cell is a little larger. It's brighter. He's - most importantly - able to mix and mingle with other pretrial detainees.

MARTIN: And, finally, does his family support him? You mentioned that he had been estranged from his family at the time that these allegations took place...

NAKASHIMA: Right.

MARTIN: ...the incidents that led to his incarceration took place. Is his family supportive of him?

NAKASHIMA: Mm-hmm. His larger, extended family do support him - his mother and father as well. When I spoke to his mother recently, she expressed great sadness about her son's incarceration. And she said she - when she visited him, she told him: I love you, son. And he told her: I love you, too, Mom. And I got a sense of bit of regret and maybe some guilt for what had happened over his life, on her part. But yes, the family does support him. The aunt has said they have no evidence that he committed any crime. So at this point, we're still in a pretrial process. His case has not yet been referred to a court-martial.

MARTIN: Ellen Nakashima is a staff writer for the Washington Post. She's followed this story for some time, now. Her profile of Bradley Manning appears in this week's Washington Post Magazine. And if you'd like to read the piece in its entirety - and we hope you will - just go to NPR.org, click on the Programs tab, and then on TELL ME MORE. And Ellen joined us from the studios at the Washington Post. Ellen, thanks so much for joining us.

NAKASHIMA: Thank you again. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.