Bradley Manning says he plans to live as a woman and begin hormone therapy, a day after the soldier was sentenced to 35 years in prison for sending classified information to WikiLeaks. He plans to live as a woman named Chelsea, he said in a written statement provided to NBC's Today show.
In his statement, Manning asked 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.
His lawyer David Coombs said 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," he said. Meanwhile, the fight to free Manning has taken a new turn, with Mr 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 switched. During the sentencing hearing, 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. He 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.
Mr Coombs said he will file a request early next week that President Barack Obama pardon Manning or commute his sentence to time served. He 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 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 behavioural science non-commissioned officers," Army spokesman George Wright said
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.
Mr 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. Daniel Ellsberg, the former defence 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.