MANHATTAN (CN) - Awaiting word on her request for hormone therapy, Chelsea Manning may have to sue, but the law is on her side, the transgender WikiLeaks source
said in an interview through her liaison.
Manning revealed her gender identity the day after a military judge sentenced her to 35 years for the biggest intelligence leak in U.S. history. Her disclosures to WikiLeaks included hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables, incident reports from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and profiles of Guantanamo Bay detainees.
Manning's prison - the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks in Ft. Leavenworth, Kan. - then exclusively revealed to Courthouse News that it does not provide transgender inmates hormone therapy. The WikiLeaks source's trial lawyer David Coombs reacted at a press conference with the promise: "I'm gonna change that."
Emma Cape, the lead organizer for the Chelsea Manning Support Network, chats every week with Manning in prison, but jailhouse restrictions make them redial every 30 minutes.
Cape also noted that guards and "quite possibly other agencies" also monitor and record their chats, a factor that Manning once feared would let prosecutors use her communications against her at trial. Since the appeals process will be based on the trial record, however, Manning has opened up contact with the outside world of late, Cape said.
Manning won the first leg of her struggle to have her gender identity recognized in prison when a Kansas judge granted her a name change two weeks ago. The legal order forced the barracks to revise its prior policy only to accept letters addressed to Bradley E. Manning, the name by which she was known at trial.
"Supporters were already writing letters addressed to 'Chelsea,' so she doesn't feel a major change in that regard," said Cape, who relayed questions by Courthouse News last week.
Manning indicated that she needs to exhaust administrative procedures with the prison before the next phase of her legal battle begins.
"The timeline on that is open-ended, but it will be considered completed when the secretary of the Army responds," Cape said.
An Army spokesman whom Courthouse News contacted about Manning's 8-month-old request has not yet responded except to say he would look into its status.
In announcing the name-change order last month, Manning had noted her optimism "that things can - and certainly will - change for the better."
One reason for Manning's confidence is federal judicial precedent, Cape said.
"She mentioned a few cases as examples: Michelle Kosilek, Fields v. Smith
, and Sandy Jo Battista," Cape said.
In the 2011 decision Fields
, the 7th Circuit struck down
a Wisconsin law that denied medical care to transgender prisoners. The 1st Circuit ruled
that same year that Battista had a right to hormone therapy, and the court is now mulling whether to affirm orders for a prison to provide Kosilek with sex-reassignment surgery.
Former Air Force psychiatrist George Brown testified for Kosilek and more than a dozen other prison-treatment cases. He said in an interview that his record is undefeated because "the Constitution in on their side."
When searching Manning's housing unit in Iraq, Army investigators found a copy of Brown's 1998 study "Flight into Hypermasculinity," which profiled 11 patients who joined the military, in their words, "to become a real man."
Brown theorized at the time that transgender women might enlist in a doomed effort to repress their identities.
Manning told her liaison that she could not remember what she thought about Brown's treatise, except that she originally read it before being deployed to Baghdad.
"She was rereading it in Iraq," Cape said.
More than 15 years after its publication, Brown co-authored a new study reporting that transgender women are twice as likely as the general population to join the military. He also participated in a panel calling on President Barack Obama's administration to drop restrictions against their enlistment.
Brown declined to speculate about the prospects of Manning's lawsuit, but he noted that other federal cases have been overwhelmingly successful.
"Once their arguments are finally heard, the logical conclusion made by judges has been to uphold the prisoner's constitutional rights, even if they do not personally agree with the idea of prisoners gaining access to such care paid for by the government," Brown said in an email.
Manning has offered to pay for her treatment to avoid litigation, and a media-generated controversy, even though an increasing number of federal and appellate courts have affirmed that she is entitled to get such care for free.
She said she has not reached out to Brown as a witness "at this time."
"She feels that the government's own psychiatrists would be willing to testify on her behalf though, and might provide stronger testimony for purposes of a military court," Cape explained.