FORT MEADE, Maryland — Bradley Manning plans to live as a woman named Chelsea and wants to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible, the U.S. soldier said Thursday, a day after being sentenced to 35 years in prison for the biggest leak of classified material in U.S. 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.
The Army said it doesn’t provide hormone therapy or sex-reassignment surgery.
“All inmates are considered soldiers and are treated as such with access to mental health professionals, including a psychiatrist, psychologist, social workers and behavioral science noncommissioned officers,” Army spokesman George Wright said.
Coombs did not respond to phone and email messages from The Associated Press on Thursday.
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 in an attempt to expose what the soldier called “bloodlust” and inspire public debate on U.S. policies.
The soldier faces the stiffest punishment ever handed out in the U.S. for leaking information to the media. With good behavior 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’s struggle with gender identity disorder — the sense of being a woman trapped in a man’s body — was key to the soldier’s 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.
A defense witness said Manning emailed him the photo with a letter titled “My problem.”
“I don’t know what to do anymore, and the only ‘help’ that seems to be available is severe punishment and/or getting rid of me,” the email said. “All I do know, is that fear of getting caught has caused me to go to great lengths to consciously hide the problem.”
Coombs said the email was evidence the military knew of Manning’s struggles, yet allowed him to stay in Iraq as an intelligence analyst and keep his security clearance.
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.”
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.
The government has called Manning 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.