These two file photos show U.S. Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, left, leaving a military court facility on July 30, 2013, in Fort Meade, Md. At right is an undated photo from the Army showing Bradley Manning in wig and make-up. / AFP/Getty Images
WASHINGTON - Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has approved an Army request to transfer national-security secrets leaker Pvt. Chelsea Manning to a civilian prison that could provide her treatment to transition to a woman, Pentagon officials say.
Manning's lawyer blasted the announcement, saying it was a "strong-arm" attempt to force Manning into dropping her request for the treatment.
"The Secretary approved a request by Army leadership to evaluate potential treatment options for inmates diagnosed with gender dysphoria," Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said in a statement.
The soldier, formerly named Bradley Manning, was convicted of sending classified documents to anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks. Manning is serving a 35-year prison sentence and is eligible for parole in seven years.
Manning has asked for hormone therapy and to be able to live as a woman. Transgenders are not allowed to serve in the U.S. military and the Defense Department does not provide such treatment. The Department of Veterans Affairs, however, does provide the treatment for veterans.
"The Pentagon's strategic leak of this story to the media is a transparent attempt to pressure Chelsea into dropping her request for needed treatment under the artificial guise of concern for her medical needs," David Coombs, Manning's lawyer, said in a statement. "It is common knowledge that the federal prison system cannot guarantee the safety and security of Chelsea in the way that the military prison system can."
Granting Manning's request for treatment is the humane thing to do, said Allyson Robinson, policy director for SPARTA, an advocacy group for LGBT troops and veterans.
"It is the constitutional right of every American to be spared cruel and unusual punishment for their crimes," Robinson said.
Manning, in a statement provided by his legal-defense fund, said she did not request the transfer and was satisfied with the "conservative" treatment plan approved by the Army.
"I was content with this plan," Manning said in a statement provided by the Chelsea Manning Support Network. "Based on these facts I don't understand why the office of the Secretary of Defense would feel the need to punt this issue by transferring me."
At Manning's trial last year, her attorneys argued that she had been disillusioned by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and believed the release of the documents, including diplomatic cables and military reports, should be seen by the public. Prosecutors called the leaks, which vaulted Julian Assange and his WikiLeaks organization to international prominence, treasonous.
Of the 216,000 inmates in the custody of the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, about 90 prisoners have been diagnosed with gender dysphoria, according to a statement the bureau issued Wednesday.
"In terms of cost, we don't have any estimates in this regard,'' BOP spokesman Ed Ross said. "Each inmate has â??individualized treatment needs."
On Sunday, Hagel indicated that he was open to reviewing the Pentagon's policy of automatically discharging transgender troops. A review is the first step in changing or scrapping military policies.
Recent research could support Hagel if he chooses to overturn the policy. A report by former U.S. surgeon general Joycelyn Elders, sponsored by a LGBT advocacy group, noted that denying transgender troops hormone treatment is inconsistent with treatment offered to other troops.
The report estimates that there are 15,000 transgender troops in the ranks.
The Army does have at least one transgender official; civilian Defense Department workers are not subject to the military ban. Amanda Simpson was appointed to a top Army post by President Obama. She now serves as the Executive Director, Energy Initiatives Task Force.
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