BRISTOL, R.I. – The lawyer who defended Army Pvt. Chelsea Manning against charges of leaking classified information said Wednesday that his client is being assessed at a military prison for gender identity disorder, and that he’s hopeful the military will allow Manning to receive hormone therapy.
Civilian attorney David Coombs spoke to more than 150 students and faculty at Roger Williams University School of Law, where he has taught. Manning, previously known as Bradley, is serving a 35-year sentence for a July conviction on espionage and other offenses for sending more than 700,000 documents and some battlefield video to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks. She said after she was sentenced that she wishes to live as a woman and receive hormone therapy. The military previously said it does not provide it.
Coombs said the military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., brought in an expert, whom he would not identify, to assess Manning’s overall health, including her previously diagnosed gender dysphoria — the sense that she is a woman in a man’s body. Manning was diagnosed with gender dysphoria by two Army behavioral health specialists before her trial, but the Army has said prisoners must be re-evaluated when they are moved to a new facility.
“They seem to be a person with the heart in the right place. They want to make sure they get the call right and they do what is in the best interest of Chelsea,” Coombs said.
“I have confidence that they’re going to do an honest appraisal, so I’m hoping that when they do that, that results in that treatment,” Coombs added after the talk. “I think the facility is doing all the right things at this point, looking at it and not ruling anything out.”
A Fort Leavenworth spokeswoman said she forwarded questions from The Associated Press about Manning’s status to the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks but did not receive an immediate response.
Coombs said Manning was doing well. He said he hopes she will be able to concentrate on schooling and other self-improvement opportunities.
“Manning has said, ‘I feel very comfortable. I’ve made friends. I don’t feel at all threatened,'” Coombs said.
Manning, 25, was convicted on 20 of 22 counts but acquitted of the most serious charge, aiding the enemy, which could have meant life imprisonment. Coombs said he doesn’t view the defense as a success, even though Manning could be out in as little as seven years.
“Thirty-five years a very, very long time,” Coombs said. “I always thought something under 20 would be a win for the defense.”
Twenty years was the maximum penalty for 10 lesser offenses to which Manning pleaded guilty in a legal strategy that surprised some experts because prosecutors made no concessions in return; in fact, they prosecuted Manning for the higher offenses, and won on most of them.
Coombs said he had hoped the strategy would convey to the military judge that the defense was honest and reasonable.
“Now, looking back on it, I don’t think I’d do anything differently, but I don’t think it had the impact that I was hoping that it would with the judge,” Coombs said.
Manning has said she leaked the material to expose wrongdoing and provoke debate. In an unsworn statement to the military judge before sentencing, Manning apologized for hurting people and hurting the United States. But Coombs said Wednesday there was no harm, and that Manning leaked the material selectively.
Prosecutors produced evidence the leaks prompted the government to relocate to other countries people who had given U.S. officials confidential information. Several ambassadors were recalled or reassigned due to embarrassing disclosures, and al-Qaida used some of the leaked material in recruitment propaganda.