Manning Wants to Change Genders in Prison

Photo of Bradley Manning in drag

In this undated file photo provided by the U.S. Army, Pfc. Bradley Manning poses wearing a wig and lipstick. Manning plans to live as a woman named Chelsea and wants to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible.

Bradley Manning, the former U.S. Army intelligence analyst who was sentenced to 35 years in prison on Aug. 21 for leaking classified military information, has said he wants to change genders, which could set up further legal challenges to his sentence.

 

On the Way to Prison

Manning’s sentence is reportedly the most severe in U.S. history concerning the leak of classified information. He sent material to the website WikiLeaks in 2010 about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, believing that he was acting as a whistleblower on what he considered misconduct of the war and atrocities against Iraqi citizens. 

He was arrested in May 2010 and his court martial was in June. He was reportedly acquitted of “aiding the enemy,” the most serious charge against him, but the judge convicted him of violating the Espionage Act for copying and leaking classified field reports, cables, and Guantanamo Bay detainee assessments, as well as a video of a 2007 Apache helicopter attack on Iraqi civilians and a Reuters photographer.

As Manning prepares to serve his sentence at Fort Leavenworth, a military center and prison in Kansas, he and his lawyers say he will ask for a presidential pardon and also apply to the military for leniency. 

They also say that he is really a woman named Chelsea and that she will demand that the government pay for hormone therapy while she’s in prison. The Army unsurprisingly responded that it “does not provide hormone therapy or sex-reassignment surgery for gender identity disorder,” according to CBS News. 

 

Gender Confusion Acknowledged

Manning’s gender had come up before, during the trial when defense attorneys used his confusion over gender in an effort to gain leniency during sentencing. He had been eligible for 90 years in prison, and prosecutors had argued for 60 years.

Using a widely circulated photo of Manning in a blonde wig and lipstick, defense lawyers had reportedly argued that his struggles with being a man put him under emotional pressure, which contributed to his isolation and led to his leaking the information.

Gary Barthel

Gary Barthel

“I believe the judge did consider the gender confusion issue PFC Manning was experiencing in determining an appropriate sentence in the case,” observes Gary Barthel, a military law expert in San Diego. 

“How much weight she actually gave to the gender confusion issue is uncertain,” Barthel says, “but it would not be unusual for a military judge to consider the accused’s overall psychological issues at the time of the offense as a mitigating factor in sentencing.”

 

Treatment Not Usually Covered

As for whether Manning will be successful in her quest for help with her gender change, it appears unlikely. “Treatment for a gender disorder that includes treatment by hormone therapy and genital surgery is not covered in the military,” says Barthel. “In fact, such treatments are not covered by most medical insurance policies for the public.”

It will likely come down to whether Manning was being treated for “gender dysphoria” before his incarceration. He could get hormone therapy treatment in prison if he had a prescription, notes Barthel, as “the policy of the U.S. Bureau of Prisons is that they will provide hormones at the level that was maintained prior to incarceration and must be approved by the medical director.” 

As for the full sex change operation, he says those have never been conducted in prison. If Manning has the surgery before arriving at Fort Leavenworth, she would be housed with the female population; if she hasn’t had the surgery, she’ll be housed with the men.

However, for safety reasons, Manning could be put into something like solitary confinement. “It is very possible that Manning may end up in some type of administrative segregation,” Barthel explains. 

 

‘Cruel and Unusual’

Jennifer Levi

This of course would add to Manning’s troubles, isolating her further. Jennifer Levi, the director of the Transgender Rights Project at GLAD in Boston, says refusal of treatment for gender dysphoria is dangerous for those who suffer from it. “If left untreated, gender dysphoria can and has led to debilitating depression, self-harm, and suicide,” she says.  

Levi says it’s possible that Manning could succeed in getting the surgery and treatment while in prison, as there is a precedent for courts granting it when prisoners’ lives are in danger. The Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects them from “cruel and unusual punishment,” which is what Manning would likely argue denial of the treatment would cause.

“I am hopeful that once lawyers for the military prison look closely at the established legal precedent, they will agree that the prison cannot simply and categorically say ‘no’ to medical treatment for Private Manning,” Levi says. 

But Barthel says if Manning’s demand for such treatment is denied, he faces a tough road legally. “In the past, these cases have been limited to those where a prisoner on hormone therapy has been transferred from one prison to another and the receiving prison denies the transgender prisoner access to hormone therapy,” he says.

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