New Army Fight Likely as Chelsea Manning Comes Out
FT. MEADE, Md. (CN) - The Army private responsible for the massive WikiLeaks disclosure of military secrets set the stage for a new court battle Thursday by announcing a female identity called Chelsea Manning.
Gender dysphoria had been a major focus of the sentencing for the soldier who was born Bradley, but up until now Manning requested to be indentified as a male. While transmitting thousands of files to WikiLeaks in the Army, Manning had taken secret photos dressed in women's clothes and sometimes used the name Breanna.
Hours after a military judge handed down the 35-year sentence for the biggest intelligence leak in U.S. history, Manning's lead attorney David Coombs told reporters he would be fighting to secure a pardon and any necessary medical care in Ft. Leavenworth for the WikiLeaks source.
"In addition to becoming the smartest person on presidential pardons, I'm going to become the smartest person on ensuring that a soldier that who is in confinement, who has gender dysphoria gets appropriate medical treatment," Coombs said yesterday. "I know that recently there was a story, I think Courthouse News ran it, where I think a Ft. Leavenworth spokesperson said, 'I don't think we have certain treatment. That's not what we give.'"
While a broad range of psychological treatment is available to all soldiers imprisoned at Ft. Leavenworth, hormone therapy and sex-reassignment surgery is not, spokeswoman Kimberly Lewis said in an interview.
Referring to those policies, Coombs cryptically added, "I'm gonna change that."
He explained that remark this morning while delivering a statement from Manning.
"I am Chelsea Manning," the statement read. "I am a female. Given the way I feel, and have felt since childhood, I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible."
Coombs told the Today Show that Manning would not be seeking a transfer from Ft. Leavenworth, an all-male facility that is reportedly the only military prison for service members sentenced to 10 or more years.
Yesterday, Coombs said in an interview that he was aware of the federal district and appellate precedent ordering prisons to provide their inmates with transgender medical care.
Indeed, the jurisdiction of the Maryland courtroom where the WikiLeaks source has been tried is subject to a 4th Circuit decision from Jan. 28 this year guaranteeing the possibility of sex-reassignment surgery for all federal inmates in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and North and South Carolina.
The Chicago-based 7th Circuit ruled similarly in 2011, striking down a Wisconsin law banning such medical care. A Boston federal judge granted surgery to a convicted wife-killer last year, and the 1st Circuit is currently mulling that decision on appeal.
Manning, however, is being held in a military prison in Ft. Leavenworth, out of reach for all of these jurisdictions.
Hayley Gorenberg, deputy director of the storied LGBT advocacy group Lambda Lega, said Manning's sentence should not involve the "deprivation of any medical treatment she may need."
"Pvt. Manning should have the right to be evaluated for any and all of her medically necessary treatment," Gorenberg said in an email.
Manning's fight comes at a time when the Pentagon is trying to paint a more inclusive image about transgender people in the military.
Under a recent executive order, Veterans Affairs must provide "culturally and clinically competent care" to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender former service members. The Pentagon even hosted an LGBT Pride Month celebration this year, with the "T" included.
In a surprising turn, Manning's prosecutors even argued in court that the WikiLeaks source's gender dysphoria diagnosis should not have stopped the soldier's deployment, taking a position against the Army's existing regulations.
Retired Army Col. James Pritzker's Tawani Foundation recently awarded the University of California's Palm Center $1.35 million to establish a Transgender Military Initiative investigating the topic.
Palm Center director Aaron Belkin had this to add about the treatment of transgender troops in prison: "Without addressing the specifics of one case or another, it would nevertheless be a sad day if the military denied necessary medical treatment to a prisoner."