In this undated file photo provided by the Army, Pfc. Chelsea Manning poses for a photo wearing a wig and lipstick. (Army / via the Associated Press)
WASHINGTON — In an unprecedented move, the Pentagon is trying to transfer convicted national security leaker Pvt. Chelsea Manning to a civilian prison so she can get treatment for her gender disorder, defense officials said.
Manning, formerly named Bradley, was convicted of sending classified documents to anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks. The soldier has asked for hormone therapy and to be able to live as a woman.
The request was the first ever made by a transgender military inmate and set up a dilemma for the Defense Department: How to treat a soldier for a diagnosed disorder without violating long-standing military policy. Transgender people are not allowed to serve in the U.S. military and the Defense Department does not provide such treatment, but Manning can’t be discharged from the service while serving her 35-year prison sentence.
Some officials have said privately that keeping the soldier in a military prison and unable to have treatment could amount to cruel and unusual punishment.
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, two Pentagon officials said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the record.
“No decision to transfer Pvt. Manning to a civilian detention facility has been made, and any such decision will, of course, properly balance the soldier’s medical needs with our obligation to ensure Pvt. Manning remains behind bars,” Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said.
The two agencies are just starting discussions about prospects for a transfer, the two officials said.
The Army has a memorandum of agreement with the Bureau of Prisons for use of several hundred beds and has sent an average of 15 to 20 prisoners a year to civilian prisons. But circumstances are different in Manning’s case. The Army normally transfers some prisoners to federal prisons after all military appeals have been exhausted and discharge from military service has been executed. Cases of national security interest are not normally approved for transfer from military custody to the federal prison system.
The former intelligence analyst was sentenced in August for six Espionage Act violations and 14 other offenses for giving WikiLeaks more than 700,000 secret military and U.S. State Department documents, along with battlefield video, while working in Iraq in 2009 and 2010. An Army general later upheld the convictions, clearing the way for an appeal at the Army Court of Criminal Appeals.
After the conviction, Manning announced the desire to live as a woman and to be called Chelsea, a name change that was approved last month by a Leavenworth County District Judge and that the military did not oppose.
The soldier has been diagnosed by military doctors multiple times — including last fall after arriving at the Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, prison — with gender dysphoria, the sense of being a woman in a man’s body.
By November, a military doctor there had approved a treatment plan, including hormone therapy, but 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.
The plan the military was considering has not been publicly released, but Manning said in the complaint that she had specifically asked that the treatment “plan consider ... three types of treatment.”
Those were “real life experience” — a regimen in which the person tries dressing and living as the sex they want to transition to (something not possible in the Leavenworth men’s facility); hormone therapy, which changes some physical traits such as breast and hair growth; and sex reassignnment surgery. Manning has not been specific about possible surgery, but experts in transgender health say it can include any of a large number of procedures such as chest reconstruction, genital reconstruction and plastic surgery such as facial reconstruction.
Hagel said Sunday that the prohibition on transgender individuals serving in the armed forces “continually should be reviewed.” He didn’t indicate whether he believes the policy should be overturned but said “every qualified American who wants to serve our country should have an opportunity if they fit the qualifications and can do it.” A transgender individual is someone who has acquired the physical characteristics of the opposite sex or presents himself or herself in a way that does not correspond with that person’s sex at birth.