When Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning was convicted last year of passing reams of classified information to Wikileaks, we predicted that the former private wouldn't simply disappear into a cell at Leavenworth:
"Just hours after his conviction, Bradley's defense attorney turned up on the "Today" show and issued a statement, announcing his desire to "live as a woman."
"As I transition into this next phase in my life, I want everyone to know the real me. I am Chelsea Manning. I am a female. Given the way that I feel and have felt since childhood, I want to start hormone therapy as soon as possible," the statement read.
The statement also asked people to use the feminine pronoun when referring to Manning. It was signed "Chelsea E. Manning" and contained a hand-written signature.
Almost as quickly, the Army released its own statement, noting that the military does not provide sex reassignment treatments or surgery, implying that Manning will serving his sentence as a man.
But don't expect Manning to give up without a fight. By declaring himself a woman, the former intelligence analyst will create headaches for the military, in terms of where Manning will be incarcerated and how we will be housed in the prison population. The military prison at Leavenworth accepts only male prisoners; female military inmates are housed at the Naval Consolidated Brig at Miramar, California.
While the Leavenworth complex has been modernized in recent years, conditions at the Naval brig are considered "better," and Manning probably believes he would be safer in that environment. However, such claims are specious, at best. Security at Leavenworth is extremely tight, and attacks on prisoners are extremely rare. Put another way, Bradley Manning will be far safer in Leavenworth than he would be in the general population at an equivalent civilian facility.
But it doesn't take a defense lawyer (or corrections expert) to see the real motive behind Manning's actions. Faced with a long prison sentence, Manning and his supporters hope to make him the biggest "problem" in the military corrections system, based on unreasonable demands and perpetual legal appeals. Various LGBT groups and the American Civil Liberties Union are lining up behind Manning, claiming the military cannot deny medical treatment to help him become a woman. And somewhere, there is probably a federal judge who might agree, assuming that Manning's lawyers can get his case out of the military system. If that happens--and it is very much a long shot--Manning could wind up at a civilian facility, undergoing gender-reassignment treatments, on your dime."
Now, just nine months later, "Ms." Manning is very close to getting her wish. Earlier this week, it was revealed that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has approved an Army proposal to "evaluate potential treatment options for inmates diagnosed with gender dysphoria." Those options might include transfer to a civilian federal prison, where Manning could receive "treatment" ranging from dressing like a woman; harmone therapy or even sex reassignment surgery.
The military has maintained it does not have the capability to treat dysphoria, but Manning's attorney is demanding treatment at an armed forces facility. He claims the former private's safety could not be assured at a civilian prison. The attorney David Combs, accused the military of "transphobia," and criticized service leaders of failing to develop an adequate plan for Manning's care.
Let's get this straight (no pun intended). Bradley Manning joined the Army as a man, never telling recruiters that he was "really" a woman inside. Did someone say fraudulent enlistment, since transgender individuals aren't allowed to enlist. Then, he proceeds to pass thousands of classified documents to Wikileaks, causing grave damage to national security. Sentenced to 35 years in prison, Manning and his defense team quickly change to focus to his gender crisis. Not only does the media comply (they now refer to him by his preferred name of Chelsea), so does the Army. Even the service now calls him "Chelsea," and Hagel's directive suggests they are taking his identity issue seriously.
Whatever happened to punishment? Manning's supporters would claim that living in the wrong body is hellish, but they ignore a rather inconvenient point: the only barrier to "Chelsea" completing his transformation, is...Chelsea Manning. Whatever his/her desired gender, Manning has a debt to pay, and there is nothing in the constitution that says the taxpayer must provide reassignment treatment, just so those decades in the slammer are a bit easier.
Indeed, Private Manning hasn't said if he wants to be a man or woman, which leads to another theory: could the gender crisis be little more than a legal ploy, aimed at securing a felon's freedom? Manning's maneuvers clearly have the Army off-balance; just nine months ago, military officials were telling the press they didn't have the capability to treat gender problems, with a not-too-subtle hint that Manning could deal with the issue when he regains his freedom--in the year 2048. Now, Secretary Hagel has the brass scrambling to figure out a way to get the turncoat to a civilian prison.
Given the Army's apparent change-of-heart, it's quite likely that Manning's defense team will keep pushing their case. As the poster "boy" for LGBT prisoners, Manning has become a media figure, and a headache for the Pentagon. At some point, Chelsea's lawyers believe they can browbeat the government into some sort of deal. After all, we're talking about the Obama Administration, a group that is hardly unsympathetic to the LGBT cause.
Against that backdrop, it's easy to envision Manning being transferred to a civilian prison for treatment, while attorneys work on a clemency petition. The request would be granted in the final days of the Obama administration, as a final sop to one of his most important constituencies. That means Chelsea would spend another two years in prison, but it's a lot better than three more decades as Leavenworth.