LIBBY POSTOVOIT; Opinion Editor;

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. ◼︎

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