Monday, July 16 , 2018, 8:54 pm | Fair 67º


Susan Estrich: Delusions of Gender Aside, Bradley Manning Is a Criminal

In a letter released on the NBC's Today show, Army Pfc. Bradley Manning announced: "As I transition into this new phase of my life, I want everyone to know the real me. I am Chelsea Manning. I am a female."

Actually, no. Manning is a criminal.

Before you jump all over me for being insensitive to gender identity issues, let me point out that this is not a "new phase" of life for the man convicted of multiple counts of leaking confidential military and diplomatic documents.

This is a 35-year prison term. There is a reason it is called punishment.

I'm all for helping individuals deal with gender issues and providing appropriate medical treatment. There are far, far too many people who suffer and get no help at all.

But if we're going to provide help, and we should, let's start with those who don't betray the men and women they serve with and their country by leaking hundreds of thousands of documents.

And by the way, let's not blame such criminal acts on gender issues, as Manning and his attorney have sought to do. According to testimony presented by the defense at trial, Manning decided to betray his country as a result of a traumatic breakup with a boyfriend, after which he sent an email of himself wearing a wig and lipstick to a sergeant, saying, "This is my problem."

Actually, his problem was disloyalty, not hair and makeup.

It reminds me of the old days of the "Twinkie defense" and the "abuse excuse." A traumatic breakup complicated by gender identity issues must be painful. Plainly, if that were all that were involved, it would be entirely appropriate for Manning to seek medical therapy. But no matter how painful the breakup, no matter how painful the gender issues, it's not an excuse to betray your country — and then expect the military to provide the kind of help that plenty of law-abiding citizens need but don't get.

You want to stigmatize people who are dealing with gender identity? Make Bradley Manning the poster person. Turn it into an excuse for espionage. That's a sure way to build support and sensitivity.

"As she begins her jail term, it may help to shine the spotlight on the plight of transgender people in prison," the Rev. Darlene Nipper, deputy executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, told the media.

I'm sure Nipper means well. I'm sure I'd agree with her on many things: I'd like to shine the spotlight on the plight of transgender people in elementary school and high school and college, and the challenges they face, and the need for sensitivity and appropriate accommodations.

I'd like to shine the spotlight on the plight of transgender people facing discrimination in employment and housing, and the need for greater understanding of the realities of gender.

I've written repeatedly applauding those individuals with the courage to come forward and educate the rest of us, individuals who have made clear just how real and painful these challenges can be.

But in my book, anyway, when you're dealing with someone who betrays their country, it doesn't matter whether it's a he or a she or a he who wants to be a she any more than it matters what their race or religion or ethnic origin is. Manning is lucky that a prudent and wise military judge chose not to convict the Army private of the most serious crime charged — aiding the enemy — and chose to impose a sentence of 35 years, rather than the 90-year maximum.

Now is the time for Manning to get out of the spotlight and face the consequences.

Plainly, Manning has no intention of doing so.

In the letter released on Today, Manning concluded, "I look forward to receiving letters from supporters and having the opportunity to write back."

"Supporters"? Excuse me. Supporters of what?

Susan Estrich is a best-selling author, the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the USC Law Center and was campaign manager for 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis. Click here to contact her or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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