Chelsea Manning Ends Hunger Strike as Army OKs 'Vital' Gender Surgery
'I am unendingly relieved that the military is finally doing the right thing. But it is hard not to wonder why it has taken so long'
Imprisoned whistleblower Chelsea Manning ended her hunger strike on Tuesday after the U.S. military said she would be able to receive gender transition surgery as well as other medically prescribed treatments.
"I am unendingly relieved that the military is finally doing the right thing. I applaud them for that. This is all that I wanted—for them to let me be me," Manning said in a statement. "But it is hard not to wonder why it has taken so long. Also, why were such drastic measures needed?"
"In any case, I hope this sets a precedent for the thousands of trans people behind me hoping they will be given the treatment they need," she said.
The surgery is scheduled for April, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which represents Manning. If it goes through, she will be the first transgender prisoner in the U.S. to receive one.
The military's assurance that she will be allowed treatment for her gender dysphoria comes after the jailed U.S. soldier launched the hunger strike on September 9 to protest the "constant, deliberate, and overzealous administrative scrutiny" of officials at Fort Leavenworth military prison in Kansas, where she has been serving since 2010 her 35-year sentence for leaking classified government documents to WikiLeaks.
Among other things, doctors have recommended that she be allowed to grow out her hair according to female grooming standards; according to ACLU staff attorney Chase Strangio, the prison will continue to require her to keep her hair short. It will also move forward with plans to subject Manning to a disciplinary board over charges that stemmed from her suicide attempt in July.
Strangio said Tuesday, "This is a monumental day for Chelsea, who can now enjoy some peace knowing that critically needed medical care is forthcoming. This medical care is absolutely vital for Chelsea as it is for so many transgender people—in and out of prison—who are systemically denied treatment solely because they are transgender."
"It is nonetheless troubling that the government continues to insist that they will enforce the male hair length standards against her and subject her to a disciplinary board over administrative charges related to her suicide attempt in July, which was precipitated by the government's refusal to adequately treat her for gender dysphoria," Strangio continued. "Given the recognition of Chelsea's health care needs, we hope that she is immediately permitted to grow her hair consistent with the standard for female military prisoners and that all charges related to her suicide attempt and the investigation that followed are dropped."
Manning's supporters also continue to push for her release from prison. Columnist Trevor Timm, who also co-founded the Freedom of the Press Foundation, which works to support public interest journalism, wrote for the Guardian, "Since leaking State and Defense Department documents to WikiLeaks in 2010, the amount of injustice Chelsea has had to suffer is almost incalculable. [....] Far from deserving punishment for her cry for help, she deserves to be released. She has suffered enough."
Evan Greer, campaign director for the digital rights group Fight for the Future, which helped launch the support website FreeChelsea.com, said, "Hundreds of thousands of people spoke out in support of Chelsea, and now the government is finally agreeing to provide her with the healthcare treatment that she needs. [B]ut now that the Army is acknowledging Chelsea deserves this treatment, it's even more outrageous that they're still threatening her with solitary confinement for charges related to her own suicide attempt. It was the government's refusal to grant Chelsea access to needed healthcare that led to her suicide attempt in the first place."