Home » Featured, News » After sentencing and disclosure of gender identity, what comes next for Chelsea Manning?

After sentencing and disclosure of gender identity, what comes next for Chelsea Manning?


After a court martial lasting more than eleven weeks, Bradley Manning was sentenced to 35 years on charges including espionage. It’s been a long time in coming. More than three years have passed since his arrest for releasing of a trove of classified documents which, among other things, exposed war crimes committed by the U.S. military.

The day after sentencing, Manning released a statement saying, “As I transition into this next phase of 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 begin hormone therapy as soon as possible. I hope that you will support me in this transition. I also request that, starting today, you refer to me by my new name and use the feminine pronoun.”

Anne Meador explores what the future might look like for Manning–both as a soldier convicted of high crimes, and as a trans woman incarcerated in a military prison.

The next phase of Manning’s life began the day after sentencing. She was transferred from Ft. Meade, Maryland, to the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks (USDB) at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, the Department of Defense’s only maximum security prison.

She received credit for 1,182 days for time served, plus 112 additional days for conditions she endured at Quantico, which the UN special rapporteur on torture described as cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. She spent all of three years pre-trial in ”extreme solitary confinement,” in a small windowless cell up to 23 hours a day. At Leavenworth, she will still be in solitary confinement until acclimating.

The Army Court of Military Appeals will automatically review the sentence, which may take up to several years. If the Court determines that any of Manning’s rights were violated, it could reduce the sentence or void it altogether.

There are several compelling issues for appeal. Manning’s lawyer, David Coombs, places the right to “speedy trial” and the unlawful pre-trial punishment at Quantico at the top. Manning will also likely appeal the judge’s allowing the prosecution to change the charge sheet–actually altering the nature of the charges–after the close of evidence.

If the appeals court finds that there were no errors in military procedures, it will affirm the sentence and remove her rank, pay and benefits. She will be dishonorably discharged from the Army after she completes her sentence. After release, she will be considered a veteran but will be ineligible for medical or education benefits from the Veterans Administration.

She will go before the Clemency and Parole Board in about seven years. David Coombs says he intends to represent her at parole hearings. According to Coombs, Manning is “an excellent candidate for parole,” considering that she is not at risk of recidivism (no access to classified documents) and didn’t commit a violent crime or a crime for personal gain.

She gets a hearing with the parole board every year. Besides parole, the only way she can obtain early release is by presidential pardon.

Manning is still part of the military until release, and her declaration that she is a female doesn’t change the Army’s view that Manning is a man. In repealing “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” the military only just came to grips with sexual orientation, not gender identity.

The military hasn’t even caught up with the psychological establishment, which just struck transgender identity from sexual disorders in its new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. In the DSM-V, released in May, the diagnosis “gender dysphoria” replaces “gender identity disorder.” The change implies a shift away from curing or “fixing” the transgender person. Department of Defense medical regulations, however, make being “transsexual” an “unallowable medical condition.”

Manning says she wants to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible. But Kimberly Lewis, spokesperson at Fort Leavenworth, says, ”The army does not provide hormone therapy or sex-reassignment surgery for gender identity disorder.”

Trans rights groups believe Manning is constitutionally entitled to hormone therapy. “The medical community is now unified that transition-related care is legitimate medical care that can successfully treat a serious underlying condition,” says Maura Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality.

The Army does provide access to psychiatric treatment for all soldiers, but there are no regulations regarding special treatment with respect to gender identity. No special accommodations will be made, such as calling in a psychologist or social worker that specializes in gender identity to discuss treatment options.

Manning’s identification as female doesn’t necessarily mean that she should be incarcerated with other women. According to Kiesling, “It is much more complicated than trans women should be in women’s prisons and trans men should be in men’s prisons.” Should she request a transfer, the Army is unlikely to consider it.

As it stands, the Army recognizes Bradley Manning, not Chelsea Manning. Regulations will have to be changed to obtain the hormone therapy she wishes and treatment to respect her rights and dignity. The military will probably have to be forced to change through legal action, a process which could have wider implications. A court ruling for Manning for equal treatment under the law and Constitution could be a giant step toward extending the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” to trans service members.

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