The attorney for Army Pvt. Bradley Manning said today that his client wants to undergo sexual reassignment therapy to live as a woman while serving his 35 year sentence for leaking classified documents about U.S. intelligence across the globe.
But would the Army allow one of its prisoners to change gender? For now, the answer is no. But legal experts say the case is could be decided in the same place where Manning has spent the last several months trying to clear his name: a courtroom.
"The Army does not provide hormone therapy or sex-reassignment surgery," said an Army spokesman at the Pentagon in an e-mailed statement to Discovery News. "All inmates are considered soldiers and are treated as such with access to mental health professionals, including a psychiatrist, psychologist, social workers and behavioral science non-commissioned officers with experience in addressing the needs of military personnel in pre- and post-trial confinement."
Manning will start serving his sentence at an army prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, for leaking 700,000 secret files, documents and videos to the whistleblower site WikiLeaks. He took the information while working as an Army analyst in Iraq from 2009 to 2010, and said he suffered a "sexual identity crisis" during that time.
Manning's attorney, David Coombs, told NBC's Today show that he wished to be called Chelsea Manning and addressed with the female pronoun. Coombs said Manning was seeking hormone therapy and not a sex-change operation.
"I'm hoping that Fort Leavenworth will do the right thing and provide that," Coombs told the program. "If Fort Leavenworth does not, then I'm going to do everything in my power to make sure that they are forced to do so."
Legal experts said they did not know of a prior case of sex reassignment treatment in the military justice system, several inmates in the federal prison system have undergone such care, according to Robin Maril, legislative counsel for the Human Rights Campaign.
In fact, a federal judge ordered the Massachusetts officials to pay for a convict's sex-change operation in 2012. The case is under appeal.
Prior to 2010, the U.S. Bureau of Prisons only allowed prisoners who had already begun sexual reassignment therapy – which consists of hormone treatments and possibly surgery – if it had already begun before their prison sentence. But that policy changed and now federal prisoners are allowed to start treatment after going to jail, Maril said.
"This is based on the medically necessary idea that denying people gender transition treatment actually leads to physical and mental anguish," she said.
Maril noted that the Pentagon and the U.S. Bureau of Prisons are both part of the government, even though the military operates a separate judicial system.
"This is a new area we are all exploring," Maril said about the Manning case. "It has to be litigated."