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Chelsea Manning’s Lawyer Upset He Learned of Possible Prison Transfer Through Pentagon Leak

How Chelsea Manning sees herself

The Pentagon won’t respond to Chelsea Manning’s requests for gender treatment, but they’ll apparently permit officials to leak information on how the agency plans to handle her requests to the media.

The Associated Press reported, based off two anonymous Pentagon officials, that the military was planning to transfer Chelsea Manning to a Federal Bureau of Prisons facility. However, according to her defense attorney, David Coombs, this leak is the first that he has heard of such a plan.

Chelsea Manning Support Network could not confirm the possible transfer because Manning had not been notified that such a plan was being considered.

Manning, who is in a military prison after being convicted of offenses stemming from her transmission of information to WikiLeaks, has been diagnosed with gender dysphoria by military medical professionals. She has sought medical treatment, but the Pentagon has refused to allow her to have hormone therapy. They have chosen to ignore her requests.

In a statement, Coombs declared, “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.”

“The Pentagon’s strategic leak of this story to the media is a transparent attempt to pressure Chelsea into dropping her request for needed treatment under the artificial guise of concern for her medical needs,” he continued. “It is common knowledge that the federal prison system cannot guarantee the safety and security of Chelsea in the way that the military prison system can.”

He added, “Accordingly, Chelsea would face the ‘choice’ between receiving necessary medical treatment but potentially jeopardizing her personal safety or not receiving necessary medical treatment but ensuring her personal safety.”

What the AP reported was that “Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel last month gave the Army approval to try to work out a transfer plan with the Federal Bureau of Prisons, which does provide such treatment,” according to “two Pentagon officials,” both whom were “not authorized to speak on the record.”

They also told the AP that the Pentagon and Bureau of Prisons were in the beginning stages of discussing the transfer.

Though Pentagon press secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby denied that a decision on a transfer had been made, based off the two Pentagon sources making unauthorized disclosures, the AP stuck to their story that the Pentagon had okayed the move.

Additionally, as highlighted in AP’s story, a military doctor approved a plan for treatment last November, which included hormone therapy. “It was sent higher up the chain of command for consideration, according to a complaint filed by Manning in March over the delay in getting treatment”

Manning filed a complaint where she indicated she requested a “regimen” known as “real life experience.” In other words, she demanded to be able to dress and live the way she wants so she could make a transition to life as a woman.

She expressed a desire for hormone therapy, which would likely lead to physical changes “such as breast and hair growth” as well as surgery.

Coombs stated, “The military’s refusal to provide necessary medical treatment to Chelsea is flat-out transphobia. Rather than deal with the reality that transgender persons are currently serving in the military, the military would seek to pawn off any responsibility for these individuals to other entities.”

“There is absolutely no reason that the Fort Leavenworth facility could not provide [hormone therapy] to Chelsea, other than a self-imposed and regressive policy that is based on archaic views of transgender persons as sexual deviants.”

He argued that the military’s invoking of “military catchphrases,” such as “contrary to the good order and discipline” or saying it would interfere with “the needs of the service” or “the mission,” were “pure rhetoric used by the Pentagon to perpetuate a backward policy that federal courts have already determined amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.”

As highlighted in Coombs’ statement, the Transgender Military Service Commission co-chaired by former US Surgeon General Dr. Joycelyn Elders and retired Coast Guard Rear Admiral Alan M. Steinman (also a doctor) released a study on whether the US military’s current policy against transgender service members is based on “medically sound reasons.”

“We find that there is no compelling medical rationale for banning transgender military service, and that eliminating the ban would advance a number of military interests, including enabling commanders to better care for their service members.”

Furthermore, “The prohibition on medically necessary cross-sex hormone treatment is inconsistent with the fact that many non-transgender military personnel rely on prescribed medications, including anabolic steroids, even while deployed in combat zones, and is based on inaccurate understandings of the complexity, risks and efficacy of such treatments.”

The study indicated there are “approximately 15,450 transgender personnel who serve currently” in the military.

Military regulations that prohibit “transgender service members from obtaining medically necessary gender-confirming surgery are harmful to the service members.”

The Commission’s study also concluded, “Defense Department rules concerning mental health, deployment and fitness for duty do not regulate gender identity in a manner that is consistent with the management of other psychological conditions, and have the effect of singling out transgender personnel for punishment even when they are mentally healthy.”

Manning cannot be discharged from the military until her sentence is complete. She will be subject to Pentagon policies unless the Pentagon chooses to avoid allowing her to force a change in policy by transferring her to a civilian prison facility.

Sketch by Alicia Neal and from the Chelsea Manning Support Network

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."