Bradley Manning needs to be a hero so that Julian Assange can be a hero.
Assange and his supporters have marketed Manning as a courageous man with deep political convictions who acted on his own to expose government wrongdoing. They have brushed aside stories of his troubled life as irrelevant distractions.
If Manning more closely resembles guys who shoot up their schools or workplaces, and Assange gave him the weapons to do so, Assange might not seem so heroic.
That was the impression I got from lead defense attorney David Coombs during this week's hearing to see if the charges against Manning merit a court martial.
Manning was described as impulsive, angry and alienated from his work and workmates. He worried about his manhood, and he had joined the Army in hopes it would make him more masculine. (I wonder if he would pass Assange's "masculinity test.") Instead, he envisioned himself as a woman, Breanna, online. He told a superior that he had gender identity disorder, and fellow soldiers knew he was gay. He had a few violent outbursts. His superiors considered him mentally unstable, but neither helped nor discharged him, even though he worked in a facility with lax security.
Manning didn't kill anyone, of course. But he did release thousands of government documents without knowing whether they would harm innocents or not. Horrified by how the U.S. wages war, he did little to bolster diplomacy. I'm glad for whatever good has come from his actions, but he's no hero to me.
Assange, under investigation by a U.S. grand jury, has claimed no known contact with or influence over Manning. But prosecutors presented evidence, hoping to prove Assange encouraged and helped Manning. At the time, the WikiLeaks site emphasized that leakers would be protected.
The Guardian has a good summary of the hearing.