Fort Meade, Maryland: Bradley Manning plans to live as a woman named Chelsea and wants to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible, the US soldier said Thursday, a day after being sentenced to 35 years in prison for the biggest leak of classified material in US history.
Manning announced the decision in a written statement provided to NBC, asking supporters to refer to him by his new name and the feminine pronoun. The statement was signed "Chelsea E Manning."
"As I transition into this next phase of my life, I want everyone to know the real me. I am Chelsea Manning. I am a female. Given the way that I feel, and have felt since childhood, I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible," the statement read.
Manning's defense attorney David Coombs told NBC he is hoping officials at the military prison will accommodate Manning's request for hormone therapy. If not, "I'm going to do everything in my power to make sure they are forced to do so," Coombs said.
Coombs did not respond to phone and email messages from The Associated Press on Thursday.
Manning's struggle with gender identity disorder — the sense of being a woman trapped in a man's body — was key to the defense. Attorneys had presented evidence of Manning's struggle with gender identity, including a photo of the soldier in a blond wig and lipstick sent to a therapist.
Meanwhile, the fight to free Manning has taken a new turn, with Coombs and supporters saying they will ask the Army for leniency — and the White House for a pardon, which is unlikely.
Even Manning's supporters have pivoted. During the sentencing hearing Wednesday, they wore T-shirts reading, "truth." Hours later, they had changed into shirts saying, "President Obama: Pardon Bradley Manning."
Manning faces the stiffest punishment ever handed out in the US for leaking information to the media. With good behaviour and credit for the more than three years the soldier has been held, Manning could be out in as little as seven years, Coombs said.
Manning has been called both a whistleblower and a traitor for giving more than 700,000 classified military and diplomatic documents, plus battlefield footage, to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks.
Coombs said he will file a request early next week that President Barack Obama pardon Manning or commute his sentence to time served.
Coombs read from a letter Manning will send to the president in which he said: "I regret if my actions hurt anyone or harmed the United States. It was never my intent to hurt anyone."
The White House said the request would be considered "like any other application." However, a pardon seems unlikely.
Manning, an Army intelligence analyst, digitally copied and released Iraq and Afghanistan battlefield reports and State Department cables while working in 2010 in Iraq. The soldier also leaked video of a 2007 Apache helicopter attack in Baghdad that mistakenly killed at least nine people, including a Reuters photographer.
The government alleged Manning was a traitor. The soldier was found guilty last month of 20 crimes, including six violations of the Espionage Act, but was acquitted of the most serious charge, aiding the enemy, which carried a potential sentence of life in prison without parole.
The case was part of an unprecedented string of prosecutions brought by the U.S. government in a crackdown on security breaches. The Obama administration has charged seven people with leaking to the media; only three people were prosecuted under all previous presidents combined.
Coombs also will work on a separate process in which he can seek leniency from the Army's local area commander, who under military law must review — and could reduce — Manning's convictions and sentence.
Whistleblower advocates said the punishment was unprecedented in its severity. Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists said "no other leak case comes close."
Daniel Ellsberg, the former defense analyst who leaked the Pentagon Papers in 1971, on Wednesday called Manning "one more casualty of a horrible, wrongful war that he tried to shorten."
Others disagreed. Gabriel Schoenfeld, a senior fellow at the conservative Hudson Institute think tank and author of the book "Necessary Secrets," welcomed Manning's punishment.
But he warned that the sentence will ensure that Edward Snowden — the National Security Agency leaker who was charged with espionage in a potentially more explosive case while Manning's trial was under way — "will do his best never to return to the United States and face a trial and stiff sentence."