Earlier today, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel reportedly approved an Army request to develop a plan to transfer transgender prisoner Chelsea Manning from a military prison to a civilian facility so that she can begin hormone replacement therapy, according to the Associated Press.
But Manning's attorney was highly skeptical of the legitimacy of the AP's report, which only cited "anonymous Pentagon officials."
Coombs released a statement Wednesday afternoon accusing the Pentagon of "strategically leaking" this story to the AP as a way to "pressure Chelsea into dropping her request for needed treatment under the artificial guise of concern for her medical needs." Coombs went on to accuse the military of transphobia, writing, "Rather than deal with the reality that transgender persons are currently serving in the military, the military would seek to pawn off any responsibility for these individuals to other entities."
"Whether the Pentagon likes it or not, Chelsea is a military service member and responsibility for her falls on the military," said Coombs. "Although a very small number of military inmates are transferred to federal prison each year, this is only after all appeals have been exhausted and the military inmate has been discharged from the service. Chelsea's appeals have not yet begun and her transfer to federal prison in these circumstances would be unprecedented. Chelsea has been asking for medical treatment from the military for the past ten months. So far, the military has outright ignored her requests. The military absolutely needs to revisit its "policy" on transgender medical care and adapt it to 21st century medical standards. It cannot continue to bury its head in the sand any longer."
Manning is serving out a 35-year sentence for leaking classified documents to the public via the WikiLeaks website, and officially came out as transgender last August after she was sentenced. She has since been diagnosed by a number of military doctors with gender dysphoria, an incongruence between one's assigned gender and the one with which they identify. Hormone replacement therapy is one of a number of recommended courses of treatment for gender dysphoria, as outlined by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health's Standards of Care, and as supported by the American Medical Association.
Manning's proposed transfer to a civilian prison for treatment may be a tactic for the military to side-step a potential Eighth Amendment lawsuit, which Manning's attorney indicated he would file if the military continued to deny his client the treatment. However, the Army has been resistant to providing that treatment, pointing to a military regulation that determines any transition-related treatment, or even a diagnosis of gender disphoria, as grounds for discharge and evidence of a "mental illness."
But in Manning's case, she cannot be discharged from the Army while she is serving out her sentence. This leaves the military with limited options: transfer Manning to a civilian prison for treatment, deny her treatment in a military prison and face legal challenges, or treat her in a military facility and set a new precedent.
Pentagon personnel could not confirm further details of the proposed plan to transfer Manning, with press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby telling the AP, "No decision to transfer Pvt. Manning to a civilian detention facility has been made, and any such decision will, of course, properly balance the soldier's medical needs with our obligation to ensure Pvt. Manning remains behind bars."
This weekend, Defense Secretary Hagel said he believes the military's ban on transgender service members should "continually be reviewed."