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Manning Lawyer Speaks in Oakland

by Davi-Elijah Manning
Friday Dec 13, 2013

As Chelsea Manning remains confined in the United States Disciplinary Barracks at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, her attorney, David Coombs, addressed a packed house at Oakland's Humanist Hall this week.

Manning, an Army private who announced that she is transgender immediately after her court-martial this summer, was convicted under the Espionage Act for releasing classified documents to WikiLeaks while working as an intelligence analyst in Iraq. Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison, and will be eligible for parole in 2020.

During Manning's announcement about her gender identity, she also requested to begin hormone replacement therapy. That request has not been granted.

Coombs addressed Manning's transgender status during his talk, as well as the ramifications of her actions. He stood before a blow-up photograph of Manning when she was known as Bradley. The photo was there to point out that Manning must live in male appearance in prison against her wishes.

Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg, a Manning supporter, addressed the crowd briefly before Coombs took to the podium.

"I don't mind being in prison for life or facing execution," said Ellsberg, as he quoted Manning while standing before the photo. "Except for having my picture painted all over the world as a boy."

Coombs said Manning spoke out and that her actions made a difference.

"Time has a way of healing all wounds," said Coombs. "For me, it hasn't, and won't, until Chelsea is out of prison. Chelsea did a dangerous thing, she showed people the truth. A very dangerous thing to do when your country doesn't want you to speak the truth. She spoke out, and it made a difference. The documents she released ended the Iraq War and started the Arab Spring. The documents shed a light on how we deal with other countries. We don't always do what's best for the world, but what's best for ourselves."

Coombs pointed out that Manning had access to millions of documents that she didn't release. The documents she sent out were carefully chosen.

"Chelsea was struggling," he said. "She had a conscious. She wanted to spark debate."

Coombs said he hopes that Manning's actions will inspire others to speak up.

"We need whistleblowers like Chelsea," he said. "There's too much that we don't know. Are we going to demand accountability and transparency?"

Coombs said that Manning was in a safe environment and was being well treated in prison. She has telephone privileges and is allowed to call friends and relatives on an approved calling list. Coombs said that he and his wife speak to Manning often, and that the two women had become quite friendly.

The military prison is not acknowledging Manning's gender identity.

"Many federal prisons recognize gender dysphoria as a standard of care," Coombs said. "It's a matter of the military catching up."

He said that transgender rights attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union and Southern Poverty Law Center were working on the issue of getting hormone therapy for Manning.

Coombs remains involved in the Manning case. On September 3, he petitioned President Barack Obama to grant Manning a presidential pardon. The request, which is being supported by Amnesty International, states that the information leaked did no actual harm and did not deserve protection, as it was not sensitive. The petition, which refers to Manning as Bradley and uses male pronouns, is now pending.

After the talk, people were asked to make donations to the Manning Defense Fund. An estimated $7,000 was raised.

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