Chelsea Manning, the transgender US soldier serving a 35-year sentence over an enormous intelligence leak, accused the government on Friday of denying her the “right to exist” by forcing her to keep her hair short.
The Defense Department argued in papers before a federal court in Washington that a lawsuit by Manning -- whose birth name was Bradley -- should be rejected, saying her claims should instead be heard in a military court.
The former army intelligence analyst is demanding that she be allowed to grow her hair beyond the two-inch (five-centimeter) limit that applies to all male inmates at the Kansas military prison where she is being held.
Manning was convicted in August 2013 of espionage and other offences after admitting to handing more than 700,000 classified documents, including military intelligence reports and State Department cables, to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks.
Manning later obtained legal authorisation to change names and receive hormone therapy. She has argued that being allowed to grow her hair is an essential part of her therapy and that cutting it makes her feel like a “weirdo and a freak”.
The Pentagon noted in a memo that Manning is housed in a military prison for men, not women, and allowing her to breach the hair-length rule would pose a “significant security risk”.
“What the government is basically telling me is ‘you cannot exist’, that ‘you are wrong’ and that ‘you do not exist,’” Manning wrote in a statement released by the American Civil Liberties Union.
“When you lose control of your gender presentation, you lose an important aspect of your identity and existence.”
US officials describe Manning’s document dump as the biggest leak of classified files in American history.