Dateline profiles Bradley Manning, as he awaits trial over leaking the secret US cables, which werelater published on WikiLeaks.
By
Maggie O'Kane

Airdate: 
Sunday, July 3, 2011 - 20:30
Channel: 
SBS One

US soldier Bradley Manning, is currently awaiting trial in the United States charged with leaking classified cables... material that was later published on WikiLeaks.

His arrest has caused deep divisions around the world, with supporters calling him a 'human rights martyr', and opponents claiming that his actions have damaged the political interests of the US and other governments. 

But who is Bradley Manning, and how did his life lead him from a small town in America's mid-west, via rural Wales and service in Iraq, to solitary confinement in a US prison cell?

This special report from Maggie O'Kane at Guardian Films traces events leading up to Manning's arrest - including comments from friends and military colleagues - and it reveals never-before seen video of the young soldier.

WATCH - See Manning's remarkable story.

REPLAY - Dateline's Mark Davis has had unprecedented access to WikiLeaks and its Australian founder Julian Assange as the story has developed - click here to replay his reports and interviews.

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Photo (US flag): AAP

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Transcript

One piece of news that did not make the headlines here this week was the latest Wikileaks revelation. It seems editors were too nervous to refer to leaks that named prominent individuals here secretly involved in the coup that disposed Thaksin Shinawatra in 2006. Explosive stuff if it were published. The possible source of that leak, Bradley Manning, is awaiting court marshal and a possible life sentence in the US, charged with leaking a massive amount of intelligence material, allegedly to Wikileaks. Maggie O'Kane has a profile of the man and the case.

REPORTER: Maggie O'Kane

This is Bradley Manning, filmed at the opening of a Boston University Computer Society. He smiles, almost flirts at the camera. Four months later in May, he is a nervous wreck. Chatting online to a famous hacker called Adrian Lamo. Online conversations which lead to his arrest. Accused of the biggest intelligence leak in US military history.

This video will always be linked to Bradley Manning. It was released by the Wikileaks website. It shows two American helicopter pilots admiring their work after they opened fire on suspected insurgents.

This is where Bradley Manning grew up. The town was stunned that the person accused of leaking military secrets to the world was one of their own.

RICK MCCOMBS, SCHOOL PRINCIPAL: It is a rural community with approximately 2,000 people here. He was very, very bright and intelligent. When all of this began, we have looked up some of the old records. When he was in 7th grade he was a straight A student.

SCHOOL FRIEND: It seems like he feared his father, but not in the same way that I feared my dad. More fear than what I would call healthy. He loved his mother, for sure. He was very into politics. On 11th September we were all freaking out. He was very worried about the country's future, and that is because he loved America.

Bradley Manning moved to Wales in 2002 after his parents' divorce. His mother is Welsh. These days they are having fundraising fetes in support of the boy from Haverfordwest. His friends from those days remember him as a bit of a Super geek, the king of the computer club.

JAMES KIRKPATRICK, SCHOOL FRIEND: What got Bradley so into computers was the fact that he was always around them from a young age. He told me that he learned computers because his father had a computer when he was a kid and he always spent his time on the computer then.

TOM DYER, SCHOOL FRIEND: He aimed to be some sort of IT superpower, similar to that of the Microsoft brand. He wanted to be renowned for his IT skills.

JAMES KIRKPATRICK: I cannot remember him saying that he would leave so it was quite sudden to find out that he had gone. I can't recall a time when he said he was leaving, I think one day he was there and then the next he had gone to America for whatever reason.

GEORGE BUSH, US PRESIDENT: Our efforts are aimed at a clear goal, a free Iraq that can protect it's people, support itself economically and take charge of its own political affairs.

By the time he returned, America was immersed in two deadly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Bradley Manning was 17. He wandered the country looking for a job in IT and a life. The jobs came and went so he slept in his red pick-up truck and wondered what was next. He desperately wanted to go to university. Joining the Army in getting a military scholarship was the only way to pay for it. It would be a terrible price.

MICHAEL, FORMER US SOLDIER: The kid was barely five foot tall. He was a runt. By military standards, by everybody that was around there - he was a runt. They would pick on him, he's crazy so pick on him, he's a faggot - pick on him. He took it from every side. He could not please anybody.

This man asked that we hide his identity. He trained side by side with Bradley Manning in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. He tells a shocking story of what happened to him there.

MICHAEL: He was a wreak, a complete wreak. This is for a boy who is pissing his pants and curled up in a foetal position on his bunk and constantly screaming.

The officers training him had come to the conclusion that he was mentally unstable and recommended that he be discharged immediately.

MICHAEL: One of my friends who was still at the discharge unit called me from a cell and said that Bradley was getting recycled. I was in shock. I could not believe it. There is no way that this guy was getting recycled.

Recycling is army slang for giving him another go. There was a shortage of computer intelligence analysts in Baghdad. They needed him in Iraq, whatever state he was in.

MICHAEL: They were lowering recruitment standards like crazy, I mean facial tattoos, too tall, too short, too fat, criminal records, nothing mattered. You could be up 42 years old and still enlist for basic training. It was take everybody you can get, keep a hold of everybody you can get.

So they pushed him through the system to the next base near Boston. Boston was a place where he felt free to be himself - intellectually and sexually. He was happy with Tyler, the man he loved. He attended gay rights demonstrations. On the day he was deployed to Iraq his boyfriend Tyler, attended a rally with a placard declaring himself to be an army wife, Bradley Manning's army wife.

DAVID HOUSE, RESEARCHER, MIT: It's Boston, in Boston you don't really ask questions about gay or straight. It is not the measure of a person.

But Boston also held other attractions for Bradley Manning. This was where he was able to make contact with the students at the prestigious MIT and Boston universities, the computer elite of America.

DAVID HOUSE: Some people call it the hacker culture in Boston, the name may be a bit misleading, what it really is, is a very profound culture that is predicated on self- empowerment through technology with the goal of achieving good.

Things may have been going well in Boston but back on base, his commanding officers were again raising the alarm about sending him to Iraq. One said, 'I felt he was a risk to himself and others.' 'He was showing signs of instability', said another. But they were ignored and Bradley Manning went to Iraq. He was sent to Forward Operating Base Hammer, 35 kilometres east of Baghdad.


JIMMY RODRIGUEZ, FORMER US SOLDIER: It was in the middle of a desert there was sand everywhere we had dust storms quite often, about once a month. It was not fun. There was nothing to do. Totally boring, an oblique place, everything was brown there.

JACOB SULLIVAN, FORMER US SOLDIER: There was a fog that would come in almost every morning that was pollution from nearby that smelled sour and nasty and would wave through and linger and create an eerie atmosphere.

JIMMY RODRIGUEZ: The morale was very low for everyone. All of the soldiers did not like it. Nobody had a purpose out there so that affected a lot of them.

It is not clear what happened, but in December, his superiors took the bolt out of his gun. He was considered unfit to be carrying a functioning weapon. But there was still light at the end of the tunnel for Bradley Manning. He was going back to Boston at the end of the month to freedom and to Tyler Watkins. But it was not the homecoming that he was expecting.

KEITH ROSE, FRIEND: It was like an email Dear John letter. It ended abruptly but Bradley did not know that. I don't know if he just did not accept it or if he had not understood it, that his relationship was over.

Within days of his break-up he turns up here at the launch party of Boston University's free hacker space.

DAVID HOUSE: There were about 150 people who showed up. They were all just beautiful people, just nice human beings.

This scene was caught inadvertently on camera and is the only footage of Bradley Manning.

DAVID HOUSE: Bradley Manning came in during this open house and toured the room, remarked about the computers in the room, spoke a little bit about the computers in the room. He showed through the language that he was using that he understood the culture. He seemed highly intelligent. He had a presence about him.

But a few days after the party it is back to Iraq, where morale and security in the intelligence area where he is working is deteriorating.

JACOB SULLIVAN: Laptops sitting there with their passwords and stick it on their computers. Not a lot of security. If somebody came into the office that I was in when I was on duty and jumped on a computer and I did not know them but they were in uniform, I am not going to say, what you doing Sir? I will be like, whatever.

JIMMY RODRIGUEZ: All of this stuff was in a folder. It had a generic name so nobody would look into it. It was all there for entertainment, that was pretty much the use of the folder - entertainment. It had a mix of games, sex and violence. They love to watch these clips of Apache helicopters gunning down people. It was entertainment.

On 7th May Bradley Manning punches a female officer in the face. He is disciplined and immediately demoted. He is told that he is finally to be discharged from the army. He has lost his job, his boyfriend and any chance of a university education.

Bradley Manning will be court-martialled in December at 2011. If convicted, he faces 52 years in prison.

MARK DAVIS: Bradley Manning in a way the forgotten face of the Wikileaks saga.

Reporter

Maggie O'Kane

Director

Teresa Smith

Assistant Producers

Guy Grandjean
Chavala Madlena

Camera

Dan Ramirez

Bill Thomas

Mark Weiss

Beau Beyerle

Marty Helgrimson

Researcher

Jim Hedge

Editor

Christian Bennett

Produced by Guardian Films

3rd July 2011