Chelsea Manning sets precedent for prison mental health care

PHOTO BY MCKENNA MORIN
PHOTO BY MCKENNA MORIN

LIBBY POSTOVOIT; Opinion Editor; postovlg@plu.edu

Chelsea Manning, formerly known as Bradley Manning, has been at the center of heated internet debate over the past month. Not because Americans are beginning to wonder if she was justified in her decision to release classified United States military documents with WikiLeaks administrators in 2010, an offense which earned her 35 years in prison. Instead, the controversy regards Manning’s upcoming sexual reassignment surgery from male to female, which the U.S. military authorized after Manning ended a five-day hunger strike in prison.

Some are supportive of the military’s decision, hailing it as an achievement in transgender rights and fair treatment of inmates. Others claim Manning doesn’t deserve the surgery in light of her crime.

After looking long and hard at both sides of the argument, I believe the military made the right choice.  The decision to allow Manning’s surgery sets an important precedent: prison health care extends to mental health care.

Several critics of Manning’s surgery are disappointed that, while homeless veterans often go without health care, Manning has the opportunity to receive this “luxury” surgery. I understand their anger; it isn’t fair that many of those who sacrificed their physical and mental well-being for this country’s well-being cannot afford health care. What these critics fail to recognize is that Manning’s operation is not an excessive measure; it only reflects that our treatment of homeless veterans and other impoverished law-abiding citizens is inadequate.

Mental health care for inmates is a right, not a luxury. Manning’s crime doesn’t wipe away her identity as a human being with problems and needs. Her uncertainty about her gender identity contributed to the emotional  instability that resulted in the leak of confidential military information. After her sentence ends, she will need to be mentally stable in order to reintegrate into society.

A final thing to note: Chelsea Manning is in prison for sharing classified military information on WikiLeaks. She is not in prison for identifying as a woman inside a male body. With that in mind, it’s only fair that Manning receives 35 years for the crime she committed, rather than a life sentence in a body that doesn’t align with her gender identity.

4 thoughts on “Chelsea Manning sets precedent for prison mental health care

  • October 1, 2016 at 12:42 pm
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    You write about “Manning’s upcoming sexual reassignment surgery from male to female, which the U.S. military authorized after Manning ended a five-day hunger strike in prison.” I hope you are not insinuating that the military’s authorization resulted from Manning’s strike. After all, correlation ≠ causation. I examine this in detail in a recent blog at Medium. Thank you.
    https://medium.com/@TransTroops/chelsea-manning-declares-victory-in-battle-of-one-40476350609d#.ekxywk438

    Reply
    • October 1, 2016 at 10:13 pm
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      Hi TransTroops,
      Since I wasn’t part of the group that authorized Chelsea Manning’s sex reassignment surgery, I don’t know the military’s reasoning behind the decision. Writing the sentence you cited, I certainly wasn’t intending to insinuate anything about the military’s decision, especially because I don’t have evidence for it. Thanks for your feedback and also for sharing your article with me. It was well-written, well-researched, and adds a new angle to the controversy surrounding Chelsea Manning’s upcoming operation.

  • October 3, 2016 at 6:59 am
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    I think this is a travesty of justice. This individual broke the law, leaked classified United States military documents with WikiLeaks administrators in 2010 which earned “him” (techincally he is stil a man regardless of his name change) 35 years in prison. This isn’t about Manning’s sexual identity and while I sympathize with his struggle, both emotionally and physically, it would appear we are rewarding this individual’s actions by allowing him to blackmail the United States government into getting what he wants (hence his hunger strike). By no means am I discounting his emotional struggle, but his sentence had nothing to do with his sexual identity. Lastly, your comment that “Manning’s operation is not an excessive measure” is ridiculous. This is not only an excessive measure, it sets a dangerous precedence. Military healthcare currently costs the government in excess of $55 billion dollars a year and is rapidly increasing. We need to do a better job of taking care of those individuals who have sacrificed their mental well being as well as their physical well being by fighting valiantly for the freedoms we take for granted. Without breaking the law.

    Reply
    • October 3, 2016 at 6:56 pm
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      Hi J. Campisano,
      I agree with you on the point that we need to do a better job of taking care of individuals who have made courageous sacrifices for this country. Your comment brings up an interesting question: if our government has the financial capacity to provide health care for both law-abiding citizens and citizens who break our laws, is our government obligated to provide health care for both? My op-ed suggests that our government is obligated to provide for both. However, since this is an opinion piece, different points of view are more than welcome. Thank you for adding your voice to this important conversation.

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