After years of fits and starts, military courts have finally imposed justice on Private Bradley Manning and Major Nidal Hassan.
Manning, the former intelligence analyst, was found guilty earlier this week of passing reams of classified documents to Wikileaks, exposing various diplomatic and military secrets. For his crimes, Manning received a 35-year prison sentence which will (most likely) be served in the U.S. Military Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
Hasan, a former Army psychiatrist, was convicted earlier today on multiple counts of murder and attempted murder. He was accused of gunning down thirteen former soldiers and civilians during a shooting spree at Fort Hood in November 2009. Hasan, an American-born Muslim--whose medical education had been funded completely by the U.S. taxpayer--had become radicalized while completing a residency in psychiatry at Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, DC.
While his comments and behavior alarmed colleagues, Army commanders chose to look the other way, fearing a possible backlash for persecuting a Muslim officer. Instead, they allowed Hasan to complete his residency, move on to a new assignment at Fort Hood, where he unleashed his deadly rampage after receiving orders to deploy to Afghanistan.
Hasan hasn't been sentenced yet, but it's clear he's angling for the death penalty. After successfully petitioning the military judge to serve as his own lawyer, Hasan put up virtually no legal defense, calling no witnesses and passing on his opportunity to provide a closing argument.
Readers will note that neither Hasan or Manning were tried on treason charges. It's difficult to prove that an American legally betrayed his country, and with ample evidence of other crimes, prosecutors elected not to charge them with treason. Still, you can make a strong case that both Private Manning and Major Hasan betrayed their fellow Americans, engaging in acts that resulted in the deaths of military personnel (as in the case of the Fort Hood massacre), or contributed to casualties on the battlefield, thanks to the secrets betrayed by Bradley Manning.
While there is broad agreement that Hasan and Manning got what they deserve, neither is likely to fade away into the bowels of the military corrections system. Just hours after his conviction, Bradley's defense attorney turned up on the "Today" show and issued a statement, announcing his desire to "live as a woman."
"As I transition into this next phase in my life, I want everyone to know the real me. I am Chelsea Manning. I am a female. Given the way that I feel and have felt since childhood, I want to start hormone therapy as soon as possible," the statement read.
The statement also asked people to use the feminine pronoun when referring to Manning. It was signed "Chelsea E. Manning" and contained a hand-written signature.
Almost as quickly, the Army released its own statement, noting that the military does not provide sex reassignment treatments or surgery, implying that Manning will serving his sentence as a man.
But don't expect Manning to give up without a fight. By declaring himself a woman, the former intelligence analyst will create headaches for the military, in terms of where Manning will be incarcerated and how we will be housed in the prison population. The military prison at Leavenworth accepts only male prisoners; female military inmates are housed at the Naval Consolidated Brig at Miramar, California.
While the Leavenworth complex has been modernized in recent years, conditions at the Naval brig are considered "better," and Manning probably believes he would be safer in that environment. However, such claims are specious, at best. Security at Leavenworth is extremely tight, and attacks on prisoners are extremely rare. Put another way, Bradley Manning will be far safer in Leavenworth than he would be in the general population at an equivalent civilian facility.
But it doesn't take a defense lawyer (or corrections expert) to see the real motive behind Manning's actions. Faced with a long prison sentence, Manning and his supporters hope to make him the biggest "problem" in the military corrections system, based on unreasonable demands and perpetual legal appeals. Various LGBT groups and the American Civil Liberties Union are lining up behind Manning, claiming the military cannot deny medical treatment to help him become a woman. And somewhere, there is probably a federal judge who might agree, assuming that Manning's lawyers can get his case out of the military system. If that happens--and it is very much a long shot--Manning could wind up at
a civilian facility, undergoing gender-reassignment treatments, on your dime.
Manning's defense teams hope the combination of legal maneuvering and pressure from the LGBT community will force President Obama to commute the turncoat's sentence before he leaves office.
Again, the odds of that happening are rather small, but Obama knows that Democrats need the gay and transgender vote for 2014 and 2016, so if those groups maintain their pressure, Bradley Manning might be a free man well before 2048.
And sadly, we haven't heard the last of Nidal Hasan, either. The former psychiatrist has his own medical issues (he was paralyzed by a police bullet during his shooting spree at Fort Hood), and it's a certainity that Hasan and his appellate team will emphasize his "special needs" during confinement. Don't be surprised if they push for incarceration in a federal prison hospital (rather than Leavenworth), even if Hasan receives the death penalty. It's also a safe bet that Hasan's surrogates will try to keep
his case "alive" long after he becomes a military inmate. At a minimum, the one-time Army Major will demand accomodations consistent with his "faith," then file complaints and appeals when those requests aren't met. Put another way: Nidal Hasan, like Bradley Manning, will be a thorn in the side of the military justice system until the moment he expires from natural causes, or he is executed. So, the saga of Major Hasan will continue to play out for years to come, in the nation's courts corrections system.
Quite a change from World War II, when military tribunals convicted Nazi saboteurs within weeks of their capture, and six of the eight were excecuted less than two months after they splashed ashore on Long Island. Obviously, the cases of Bradley Manning and Nidal Hasan are different in one key regard: both are American citizens, with constitutional rights that had to be secured. But it's positively absurd that it took years to convict both soldiers in open-and-shut cases. And, it's even more nauseating that both will try to advance their agendas, from behind prison bars, while we pay for their incarceration and legal expenses.
Not much consolation to the victims at Fort Hood, or the individuals who were exposed by Bradley Manning's treachery.