FORT MEADE, Md.
Three years after rocking the Pentagon by leaking a mountain of secrets, Bradley Manning created a whole new set of potential complications for the military Thursday by asking to be known as a woman named Chelsea and to undergo hormone treatment.
Manning’s gender- identity struggle — a sense of being a woman trapped in a man’s body — was brought up by the defense at the court-martial, and a photo of the soldier in a blond wig and lipstick was submitted as evidence.
But the latest twist, announced the morning after Manning was sentenced to 35 years behind bars, surprised many and confronted the Pentagon with questions about where and how the Army private is to be imprisoned.
The former Army intelligence analyst disclosed the decision in a statement provided to NBC’s “Today” show.
“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,” the statement read.
The statement asked people to use the feminine pronoun when referring to Manning. It was signed “Chelsea E. Manning” and included a handwritten signature.
The soldier’s attorney, David Coombs, told “Today” he hopes officials at the military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., accommodate Manning’s request for hormone treatment, which typically involves high doses of estrogen to promote breast development and other female characteristics.
However, George Wright, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon, said the Army does not provide such treatment or sex-reassignment surgery. He said soldiers behind bars are given access to psychiatrists and other mental-health professionals.
A lawsuit could be in the offing. Coombs said he will do “everything in my power” to make sure Manning gets his way. And the American Civil Liberties Union, the Human Rights Campaign and other advocates for gays, bisexuals and transgender people said Manning deserves the treatment.
“In the United States, it is illegal to deny health care to prisoners. That is fairly settled law,” said Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. “Now the Army can claim this isn’t health care, but they have the weight of the medical profession and science against them.”
With Manning in custody and unavailable to comment, the AP is seeking additional information about the statement from Coombs, who did not immediately respond to email and telephone messages. For the time being, AP stories will use gender- neutral references to Manning and provide the pertinent background on the transgender issue.
A Federal Bureau of Prisons policy implemented last year requires federal prisons to develop treatment plans, including hormone treatment if necessary, for inmates diagnosed with gender-identity disorder. But the bureau oversees only civilian prisons.
Manning’s case appeared to be the first time the therapy had come up for a military prisoner.