By Van Mitchell
Special to The Sun
Supporters say Manning announcement is old news
By Van Mitchell
Special to The Sun
The news that Bradley Manning, the Army private sentenced this week to military prison for leaking classified documents, revealing he intends to live out the remainder of his life as a woman has drawn mixed reaction from the Oklahoma town where he once lived.
Manning announced Thursday that he would live his life as Chelsea Manning. The soldier, 25, was sentenced to 35 years in prison on Wednesday after having been found guilty of 20 charges ranging from espionage to theft for leaking more than 700,000 documents to the WikiLeaks website while working in Iraq in 2010.
Rena Guay is executive director of the Oklahoma Center of Conscience of Oklahoma City, which is a member of the Bradley Manning Support Network. She said Manning’s announcement is old news and believes the media is using it as a distraction to the real story of Manning’s conviction.
“My first reaction is it is an indication that the media hasn’t been paying attention to this case because Bradley Manning’s gender-identity issue came out in 2010 shortly after he was arrested,” she said. “That has been out there for a while and I don’t understand what all the hoopla is all about. This is a distraction. To me it is a black eye for the media that is sensationalizing this.”
While Manning has his supporters, there are others in Crescent, a tight-knit community of about 1,400, who disagree with his actions.
Crescent City Manager Ed Stanton was quick to point out that Crescent wasn’t Manning’s hometown as many media outlets have previously reported.
“The young man is not from here,” Stanton said. “He just went to school here. There is kind of a misconception that this is his hometown. He just lived here for a short time and moved on.”
Stanton said while he couldn’t speak for the entire community, the feedback he has received from residents has been negative toward Manning.
“Crescent doesn’t support anything that would put our troops at risk,” Stanton said. “I have to say it is not supportive at all. The feel I get as city manager there is a tremendous lack of support for what he did.”
Stanton said all the media attention surrounding Manning hasn’t had much of an impact on Crescent.
“It has had no impact on us other than we are just embarrassed,” Stanton said. “Crescent is a very positive town focusing on economic development and anything like this doesn’t even have an impact on us.”
Guay was one of about a dozen supporters who held a candlelight vigil in the Logan County town of Crescent Wednesday to support Manning, who once resided there.
She called Manning a person of integrity and believes he should be pardoned.
“The bottom line is he is a person of courage and integrity regardless what his gender is,” Guay said.
During his trial, Manning’s defense team suggested his struggles with gender identity as a gay soldier were a factor in his decision to leak the documents.
Nathaniel Batchelder serves as director of the Peace House in Oklahoma City and is a supporter of Manning.
Batchelder said Manning’s declaration should have no bearing on his case.
“Chelsea has made the gender-identity issue known to friends and insiders as of 2010,” he said. “It changes nothing in terms of the release of the documents and the trial and the sentencing. We think the sentence is harsh and we wish he had received the minimum sentence.”
Batchelder said he believes Manning was conscience-stricken when he decided to leak the documents.
“It was bold and it was an act of civil disobedience and acts of civil disobedience of legal consequences,” he said.
Don Heath, pastor of Edmond Trinity Christian Church, which announced earlier this year that its congregation is open and affirming to the gay community, said he admires Manning’s actions today.
“I always admire someone for coming out. It takes courage and it emboldens other LGBT people to come out,” Heath told The Sun. “It takes even more courage to come out while you are beginning a long prison sentence, knowing the ridicule that you are likely to face from jailers and other prisoners and that you will have to wait years for surgery.”
Heath said Manning’s announcement adds credibility to his previous explanation for leaking the documents.
“He is not afraid to face the consequences for revealing what he believes were unjust actions by the United States government. I believe Bradley Manning’s story,” Heath said. “If it is true, he stands in solidarity with Biblical prophets who risked their own well-being to bring the oppression of the monarch to light.”