The story of 25 year-old Army Pvt. Bradley Manning, now convicted, demoted, and sentenced to 35 years at Fort Leavenworth prison, has taken a bizarre turn. In the same week, Major Nidal Hasan, a bearded jihadist wearing an Army uniform, sat in a Texas court room hearing evidence of his own murderous attack on colleagues at Fort Hood on November 5, 2009. Both cases raise similar questions: Did political sensitivities increase dangers that could have been avoided?
Appearing on NBC's "Today" show, Manning's attorney David Coombs released a letter from his client calling himself "Chelsea E. Manning" and asking for support as he seeks hormone therapy to confirm his identity as a woman. The Army responded with a statement noting that prisons provide psyciatric care to all prison inmates, but not hormone therapy and "gender reassignment" surgery. Attorney Coombs, who refers to Manning with female pronouns, has said he will take action to force the Army to provide what Manning wants.
Some state courts already have ruled that denial of such therapy to prisoners constitutes "cruel and unusual punishment." Litigation probably won't be necessary, however, given President Obama's record of pandering to his LGBT constituency. Annual White House celebrations of "LGBT Equality Month" in June have welcomed lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgenders, all of whom are claiming full civil rights as sexual minorities.
If LGBT activists successfully change Defense Department policy, the US Army probably will yield to political pressure to provide the desired hormone therapy and, eventually, surgery, counseling, and other expenses associated with sex-change transitions. These benefits probably will be extended not just to Manning, but to all sexual minorities who want full rights and benefits under LGBT Law in the military.
The number of individual servicemembers involved is small at this time, but opening the door to medical benefits and other family subsidies could have a magnet effect, drawing into the military greater numbers of young people who are confused about their sexuality but cannot afford therapy on their own.
Courtroom testimony from Manning's psychiatrist and psychologist about his troubled childhood inspired compassion. Manning told Army supervisors he was gay in 2008, and in 2010 sent an email to a psychologist with a photo of himself dressed as a woman. The obvious cry for help, unfortunately, was ignored.
Manning is an adult and legally responsible for his actions. He is no hero, and the court got it right in determing guilt and the penalty for leaking a huge trove of secret documents. Still, none of this should have happened. Under the 1993 law regarding gays in the military, this confused young man was not eligible en eligible for military service, much less suited to work with classified information.
Army officials who retained him despite signs of serious instability as well as gender confusion needed to be disciplined. According to Army Times, fifteen of them were. But there are no indications that the Department of Defense has learned appropriate lessons from the sad story of Bradley Manning.
Nor have we seen any recognition that it was a mistake to retain and promote Army Maj. Nidal Hassan − another person unsuited for the military for different reasons. Some of Hasan's Walter Reed Hospital supervisors were well aware that the under-performing psychiatrist had antagonized some students and faculty by espousing extremist Islamic views. They nevertheless avoided taking action, even when Hasan revealed dangerous jihadist beliefs in a lengthy slide presentation that justified suicide bombings and fratricide by Muslim-Americans in the military.
National Public Radio reported that officials who worried that Hasan might be psychotic also feared they might be " 'discriminating' against Hasan because of his seemingly extremist Islamic beliefs." The Boston Globe reported concerns that loss of the Army's only Muslim psychiatrist hired since 9/11 would undermine "diversity" goals.
The self-identified "Soldier for Allah" was promoted and transferred to Fort Hood. In a 2009 shooting rampage, he killed thirteen adults and one unborn child while shouting the jihadist war cry, "Alahu Akbar." Gen. George Casey, the Army Chief of Staff, expressed the hope that "diversity" would not become a casualty of the tragedy. To this day, the outrage has been compounded by the administration's categorizing of the bloody massacre as "workplace violence," not a terrorist attack.
Pentagon officials have assumed unprecedented risks while stifling dissent and warnings of problems that have cost American lives. When similar consequences even worse than these ensue in the future, no one should be surprised.
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