Private Chelsea Manning, the U.S. Army intelligence officer-turned-whistleblower, may be moved from a military prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, to a civilian facility so that hormone therapy linked to her transgender status could be provided.
The lawyer of Private Manning, David Coombs, however hit out at the Pentagon for allegedly leaking information of the planned transfer to the media.
He said this “strategic leak” represented a “transparent attempt to pressure Chelsea into dropping her request for needed treatment under the artificial guise of concern for her medical needs.”
Explaining that it was common knowledge that the federal prison system could not guarantee the safety and security of Private Manning in the way that the military prison system could, Mr. Coombs said that as a result of the leak, his client would face the “choice” between receiving necessary medical treatment but potentially jeopardising her personal safety, or not receiving necessary medical treatment but ensuring her personal safety.
“The Pentagon’s leak is intended to strong-arm Chelsea into backing down in her requests for medical treatment, ironically using the same method (leaking information) that sent Chelsea to prison for 35 years,” he added.
The case of Private Manning, who was previously known by the first name of Bradley, represented a heretofore-unprecedented situation for the Pentagon, which does not allow transgendered individuals to serve and hence has no protocol for such treatments.
However, according to reports the Department of Veterans Affairs does provide the treatment for veterans, and its resources may be tapped for Private Manning, who is currently serving a 35-year jail term after being convicted for passing on classified military documents and State Department cables to anti-secrecy website Wikileaks.
Wikileaks subsequently published the massive trove of confidential documents on its website in 2010 and 2011, following which the Obama administration vigorously pursued the legal case against Private Manning.
Although she is eligible for parole after seven years, shortly after being sentenced by a military court in 2013 Private Manning said that she wanted to live as a woman while in prison, citing an army psychiatrist’s prior diagnosis of gender-identity disorder.
This week, Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said that although no decision to transfer Private Manning to a civilian detention facility has been made yet, any such decision would “properly balance the soldier’s medical needs with our obligation to ensure Private Manning remains behind bars.”
U.S. Defence Secretary Charles Hagel spoke of the broader question of the Pentagon’s policies banning transgender people from serving in the military, noting that while he was “disinclined to formally review” the policies he was keen to learn more about the issue.
The case of Private Manning has however highlighted the paradox that more than two years after the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the law banning gay men and lesbians from serving in the military openly, transgender service members could be dismissed from service without recourse.