Army Pvt. Bradley Manning might be behind bars for the next 35 years, but he's not surrending easily his ability to influence his accommodations.
The former military intelligence analyst, who was convicted of Espionage Act violations amongst other crimes for leaking hundreds of thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks, stunned the military court the day after his sentencing by seeking assistance in dealing with his gender identity disorder. The disgraced enlisted man wants to be treated as a woman, referred to as Chelsea, and given hormone treatments to help facilitate his condition.
The problem, of course, is that Fort Leavenworth's military facilities is exclusively male. And, according to a Pentagon spokesman, the location does not offer such hormone treatment nor does it do sex-reassignment surgery. The most Manning likely would receive at Leavenworth is access to psychiatrists and other mental health professionals.
That might not be enough. Many in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community are announcing their support for Manning to have his request granted, or risk having the Army be found responsible for denying basic health care.
While the whole notion might sound far-fetched to many in our readership, case law is on Manning's side. The Eighth Amendment prohibits the government from inflicting cruel and unusual punishment. Denial of health care regularly has been found to violate that standard.
As such, when Manning says: "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 military has to respond.
We have sympathy for both sides of this unique situation. Manning's request is a first for the military, and it must be cautious as it negotiates a solution.
Gender identity disorder, which causes individuals to have a strong personal identification with the opposite sex, might not be common but it is real. Persons experiencing GID who ultimately transform to their preferred gender do require hormone treatments and surgery. They also need to experience society in their new role for an extended period of time prior to undergoing the physical metamorphosis, and receive extensive psychological attention. Absent the proper and supportive counseling, a transexual likely will fail in their efforts.
But we cannot lose sight of what Manning did. The service member purposefully violated his military oath and placed fellow soldiers and diplomatic personnel at risk with his acts of espionage. Manning committed the crimes as a man, was convicted as a man, and was sentenced as a man.
We believe he should serve that sentence as a man. Attempts to experience society as a woman will be impossible in the prison environment. It is far from an ideal setting for working through the psychological issues Manning faces. To demand otherwise is farcical. Any patient's self-diagnosis and their own intense feelings for sex reassignment is not to be viewed as a reliable indicator of transexuality.
Granted, Manning does have a professional diagnosis. And, after he has served his time, we would hope Manning takes the steps necessary for transformation to a woman. It is a disorder that should be addressed -- just not during his extended stay at Fort Leavenworth.
Manning's request is a clever ploy to game the system -- and should be denied. We must not lose sight of the crimes committed.
Editorial by Patrick Lowry