JIDDAH, Saudi Arabia — The Pentagon is considering transferring Ptv. Chelsea Manning to a civilian prison where the soldier, who is serving time for leaking classified documents, could receive medical treatment for gender dysphoria, defense officials said Wednesday.
That option is among several that Army leaders are weighing and could set a precedent for the Pentagon, which has come under increasing pressure to reexamine its prohibition on allowing transgender people to serve in uniform.
Manning, who joined the Army as a man, and formerly used the name Bradley, is serving a 35-year sentence for leaking a trove of sensitive military documents and diplomatic cables to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks. Although the Pentagon routinely discharges transgender service members who take steps to transition to the sex they identify with, the military will retain custody of Manning for years.
“The Secretary approved a request by Army leadership to evaluate potential treatment options for inmates diagnosed with gender dysphoria,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in a statement Wednesday in Saudi Arabia, where Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is meeting with defense chiefs in the Persian Gulf region. “No decision to transfer Private 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 Private Manning remains behind bars.”
Speaking to reporters en route to Jiddah on Monday, Hagel said that he is disinclined to formally review the Pentagon’s policies that bar transgender people from serving in the military but that he is keen to learn more about the issue.
Hagel, who has been criticized for disparaging remarks he made in 1997 about the propriety of nominating an openly gay man to serve as ambassador to Luxemburg, seemed to signal a degree of sympathy for transgender people who want to serve.
“I believe that all qualified individuals who want to serve their country in uniform should have an opportunity to do that,” he said. The secretary added that the “medical dimensions” of this issue make it more complex than others the Pentagon has wrestled with, such as the 2011 repeal of the policy that barred openly gay people from serving.
Manning, who is being held at the Army prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., asked medical personnel there in August to provide her with “a treatment plan consistent with the recognized professional standards of care for trans health,” according to a statement attributed to the soldier and posted last month on a Web site run by supporters.
Manning filed a complaint in March protesting the military’s delay in responding to her request for a medical treatment plan, according to the Associated Press, which first reported that the Pentagon was considering alternatives to military incarceration.
The Army last month changed Manning’s official paperwork to reflect her new name, Chelsea Elizabeth, after a Kansas judge signed off on a name change. Army officials, however, have said they continue to consider Manning a man.