Coombs Speaks to Law Students about Chelsea, the Trial, and a New Gender Dysphoria Assessment


On Wednesday, David Coombs was in conversation about Chelsea Manning and the case with RWU Law Professor Emily Sack at the Law School where both he and his wife have taught.  The talk was open to the public and attended by law students.

MANNING coombs at roger williams university

It’s been pointed out by Alexa O’Brien that amongst the other travesties surrounding the trial of Chelsea Manning such as the lack of media coverage and lack of public access to court documents, the fact that almost no legal students (perhaps only one) ever attended, is tragic. (If you haven’t already seen them, you can hear Alexa talking about the case – and related matters – in these two videos.) On the face of it, this lack of engagement in what was such a groundbreaking and hugely significant trial does not auger well for the future of Law in the USA, so it’s good that Coombs has taken the time to make the RWU students aware of the facts of the case.


Although Coombs says he will NOT be counsel for Chelsea in the legal appeals process (which will only begin after the review by the convening authority), he will continue to represent Chelsea for the gender issues, clemency matters and a presidential pardon – see more here on these. (He has previously explained that he believes it’s more efficient for fresh eyes to conduct the legal appeals).  There’s a helpful overview of the whole appeals/clemency process on the emptywheel blog, which was posted straight after the sentence (hence it wrongly anticipates David Coombs will do the appeals).


In the interview he gave the ‘Today’ programme where it was first announced that Chelsea now wished to be regarded publicly as the woman she had always known herself to be, Coombs made it clear he intended to fight for her right to have this issue properly addressed while she was in prison.

Although we heard from two behavioural health specialists during the defence’s sentencing argument who had both assessed her and diagnosed gender dysphoria, an overall health assessment is made at each facility, and Chelsea is therefore undergoing this process now at Fort Leavenworth as a newly convicted prisoner.

David Coombs told the RWU audience that he was hopeful of the outcome of this assessment with respect to Chelsea accessing the appropriate hormone treatment so that she could begin the physical transition process, because the facility had brought in a specialist to assess Chelsea for the gender dysphoria, and Coombs felt that this was a person who would do a decent job.

AP (Associated Press), whose David Dishneau became a regular at Fort Meade, reports Coombs as saying:

“They seem to be a person with the heart in the right place. They want to make sure they get the call right and they do what is in the best interest of Chelsea,”

“I have confidence that they’re going to do an honest appraisal, so I’m hoping that when they do that, that results in that treatment,”

“I think the facility is doing all the right things at this point, looking at it and not ruling anything out.”

To keep up the pressure, you can still sign the firedoglake petition – more info from them here. But it’s great that there are some signs of hope, considering that hitherto this has not been considered an option in military confinement. Another vanguard action for Chelsea who is still ‘changing the world’ in prison!

Coombs reported that Chelsea was doing well in prison, according to AP (Associated Press):

“Manning has said, ‘I feel very comfortable. I’ve made friends. I don’t feel at all threatened,'” Coombs said.

and that he expects the formal process for Chelsea to change her legal name to go ahead from Fort Leavenworth (The Herald News).


Coombs contrasted the image of Pvt. Manning that the government sought to project, and that the media frequently trotted out, with the real person.

According to The Herald News:

Coombs said the federal government also made great efforts to marginalize Manning, 26, as a troubled gay person who leaked classified documents to WikiLeaks in an effort to hurt the United States.

“That couldn’t have been further from the truth,” Coombs said, adding that Manning was troubled by what she saw during her combat tour in Iraq, and that she believed the American public had a right to know the truth.


justice denied

In talking about the issues in the trial, Coombs drew attention to the current harsh political climate for whistleblowers; he spoke of the Obama administration’s record of having prosecuted more whistleblowers under the Espionage Act than all other presidents put together, and contrasted the ways in which Pvt. Manning showed willing throughout the trial with the unreasonable over prosecution by the government.

Again, from The Herald News:

Manning never denied leaking documents, and sought to accept responsibility by pleading guilty to the lesser charges of violating the Espionage Act and other offenses. But the federal government was “unreasonable” and sought a “scorched earth” approach to prosecute Manning. Some court hearings had more than two dozen attorneys from various federal agencies in attendance.

He pointed out how ridiculous it was to charge Pvt. Manning with ‘aiding the enemy’ for giving information to a news organisation. Apart from anything else, were it to be true it would be an absurdly roundabout way of aiding any enemy.

The Herald News again, quoting Coombs:

“If your intent is to aid the enemy, giving the information to the media seems to be a really inefficient way to do it.”

In assessing how the case went, Coombs said that, although he didn’t regard the outcome as a success (having thought that anything more than 20 years would not represent a good result), he didn’t think he would do anything differently, but he had hoped for a better response from the Judge.


Judge Lind – pictures from the courtroom by Clark Stoeckley


To the inevitable question of the ‘harm done’ to the United States and US personnel, Coombs explained that, contrary to the constant propaganda, Chelsea had only released information selectively and, moreover, the government had failed over three years to bring evidence of this well trumpeted ‘harm’.


After the talk Coombs spoke with the press, and it was reported by Associated Press, (whose coverage featured in various outlets including the Guardian) and the The Herald News, both of which are quoted above.

UPDATE: There is now also more/other info on the talk in this subsequent report from The Providence Phoenix.

MANNING coombs talking to press at RWU


Don’t forget that there are various applications going forward for clemency which need your urgent support – see this post which is kept updated, for all the ways you can do this.  The petition has now closed on the White House site, but you can still sign the equivalent petition for a presidential pardon here. Letters in support of the clemency appeal to Maj Gen Buchanan are sought – see here. And you can write to Chelsea (Dear Chelsea, but addressed Bradley for now) at:

PVT Bradley E Manning
1300 N Warehouse Rd
Ft Leavenworth KS 66027-2304 USA .

You can still donate to her ongoing legal defence, to the campaign, or to her Mum’s side of the family (in Wales) to assist them financially with travel to visit Chelsea.

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