NEW YORK - Bradley Manning, the Army private sentenced to 35 years in military prison for leaking classified documents, revealed Thursday he intends to live out the remainder of his life as a woman.
"I am Chelsea Manning. I am female," the Army private wrote in a statement read by his attorney Thursday on NBC's Today show. "Given the way that I feel, and have felt since childhood, I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible. I hope that you will support me in this transition."
Manning, 25, was sentenced to 35 years in prison on Wednesday after having been found guilty of 20 charges ranging from espionage to theft for leaking more than 700,000 documents to the WikiLeaks website while working in Iraq in 2010.
"I also request that, starting today, you refer to me by my new name and use the feminine pronoun (except in official mail to the confinement facility)," he continued in the statement posted on the show's web site. "I look forward to receiving letters from supporters and having the opportunity to write back."
Manning signed the letter "Chelsea E. Manning."
Manning faced a maximum of 90 years in prison after his conviction last month on charges of espionage, theft and fraud.
He was convicted of one of the largest leaks of classified material in U.S. history and was at the center of a growing debate over government secrecy.
Supporters of Manning's consider him a whistle-blower whose exposures served the public interest.
The government called Manning a traitor who hurt the country.
At a press conference after the sentencing Manning's attorney, David Coombs, said the case against his client sends a "chilling" message to those who want to expose government wrongdoing.
The judge in the case, Army Col. Denise Lind, announced the sentence in a military courtroom in Fort Meade, Md.
Prosecutors had urged the judge to sentence Manning to 60 years as a deterrent to others who might be tempted to leak secret documents.
"He betrayed the United States, and for that betrayal, he deserves to spend the majority of his remaining life in confinement," Capt. Joe Morrow had said during the sentencing hearing.
Manning's defense had urged the military to sentence Manning, who served as an intelligence analyst in Iraq, to no more than 25 years in prison.
Manning leaked secret documents, which included battlefield reports and State Department cables, to WikiLeaks, which posted them on the Internet.
The U.S. government said his actions jeopardized U.S. interests and exposed informants and sources to danger. Manning's defense attorneys painted him as a an idealist who opposed the war in Iraq.
During his trial, Manning's defense team suggested his struggles with gender identity as a gay soldier were a factor in his decision to leak. His attorneys presented an email to a former supervisor from April 2010 in which he said he was transgender and joined the Army to "get rid of it."
The email, which had the subject line "My Problem," also included a photo of Manning in which he is wearing a blonde wig and lipstick. During Manning's nine-month detainment at the Marine Corps brig in Quantico, Va., following his arrest in 2010, he sent two letters to his counselor using the name "Breanna,'' Master Sgt. Craig Blenis testified at his trial.
In the statement read on TODAY, Manning thanked his supporters. "I want to thank everybody who has supported me over the last three years," he wrote. "Throughout this long ordeal, your letters of support and encouragement have helped keep me strong.l I am forever indebted to those who wrote to me, made a donation to my defense fund, or came to watch a portion of the trial. I would especially like to thank Courage to Resist and the Bradley Manning Support Network for their tireless efforts in raising awareness for my case and providing for my legal representation."
Manning will likely serve his sentence at Fort Leavenworth, the only military prison for service members sentenced to 10 or more years, a Military District of Washington spokesperson told The Associated Press. The facility does not provide hormone therapy or sex-reassignment surgery for gender identity issues but does provide psychiatric care, a Fort Leavenworth spokeswoman told Courthouse News.
At Leavenworth, a spokesman says there's never been a case similar to Manning's, and that the soldier would need to petition for a transfer to a federal prison to receive hormone treatment.
A former Army prosecutor says he doubts the military would voluntarily move Manning to a civilian prison, but that the transfer could be ordered by a judge. And Greg Rinckey says if Manning dressed as a woman, he might have to be segregated from the general population. As for the hormone treatment, he says the military's view is, "You enlisted as a male, you're a male, you're going to be incarcerated as a male."
Manning's struggle with gender identity disorder was a key part of his defense at his court-martial, where he was sentenced yesterday to 35 years for providing secret documents to WikiLeaks.
(Copyright 2013 by USA Today. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. )