WASHINGTON (AP) — By asking to be known as a woman named Chelsea, Bradley Manning has created a host of possible challenges for the military as the soldier began serving a 35-year prison sentence for giving secrets to WikiLeaks.
Manning's gender-identity struggle — a sense of being a woman in a man's body — was brought up by the defense at the court-martial, and a photo of the soldier in a blond wig and lipstick was submitted as evidence.
But the latest twist, announced Thursday, surprised many and confronted the Pentagon with questions about where and how the Army private is to be imprisoned.
The former Army intelligence analyst disclosed the decision in a statement provided to NBC's "Today" show.
"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.
The statement asked people to use the feminine pronoun when referring to Manning. It was signed "Chelsea E. Manning" and included a handwritten signature.
The soldier's attorney, David Coombs, told "Today" he hopes officials at the military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., accommodate Manning's request for hormone treatment, which typically involves high doses of estrogen to promote breast development and other female characteristics.
However, George Wright, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon, said the Army does not provide such treatment or sex-reassignment surgery. He said soldiers behind bars are given access to psychiatrists and other mental health professionals.
A lawsuit could be in the offing. Coombs said he will do "everything in my power" to make sure Manning gets his way. And the American Civil Liberties Union, the Human Rights Campaign and other advocates for gays, bisexuals and transgender people said Manning deserves the treatment.
"In the United States, it is illegal to deny health care to prisoners. That is fairly settled law," said Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. "Now the Army can claim this isn't health care, but they have the weight of the medical profession and science against them."
With Manning in custody and unavailable to comment, the AP is seeking additional information about the statement from Coombs, who did not immediately respond to email and telephone messages. For the time being, AP stories will use gender neutral references to Manning and provide the pertinent background on the transgender issue.
A Federal Bureau of Prisons policy implemented last year requires federal prisons to develop treatment plans, including hormone treatment if necessary, for inmates diagnosed with gender-identity disorder. But the bureau oversees only civilian prisons.
Manning's case appeared to be the first time the therapy had come up for a military prisoner.
Manning, 25, was convicted of Espionage Act violations and other crimes for turning more than 700,000 classified military and diplomatic documents over to the secrets-spilling website WikiLeaks. Coombs said the soldier could be paroled from prison in as little as seven years.
After sentencing, Manning was returned Thursday to Fort Leavenworth.
Fort Leavenworth is an all-male prison. But the staff has some leeway to separate soldiers from the other inmates based on the risk to themselves and others, prison spokesman George Marcec said.
Manning would not be allowed to wear a wig or bra, and would have to meet the military standard for hair, Marcec said. In addition, Marcec said if Manning wants to go by Chelsea in the prison, a name change would have to be approved in court and then a petition submitted with the Army to change its records.
Advocates said gays and transgender people are more susceptible to sexual assault and other violence in prison.
"She most likely will need to be placed with a female prison population because she identifies as female," said Jeffrey Parsons, a psychology professor at Hunter College in New York.
Under a special agreement, the Army sends its female prisoners to a Navy women's jail in Miramar, Calif. It also has an agreement under which it can send soldiers to federal civilian prisons.
Greg Rinckey, a former Army prosecutor and now a lawyer in Albany, N.Y., said Manning's statement could be a ploy to get transferred to a civilian prison.
"He might be angling to go there because he believes life at a federal prison could be easier than life at the disciplinary barracks at Fort Leavenworth," Rinckey said.
He also said the military is adamant about not providing hormone treatment: "You enlisted as a male, you're a male, you're going to be incarcerated as a male."
(CNN) — A military judge has found Pfc. Bradley Manning, accused of the largest leak of classified information in U.S. history, not guilty of aiding the enemy — a charge that would have carried a maximum sentence of life in prison.
He was found guilty of most of the remaining charges against him, with the judge accepting some of the guilty pleas he made previously to lesser charges.
If he had been found guilty on the aiding the enemy charge, Manning could have been sentenced to life in prison. He could be sentenced to up to 20 years behind bars on some of the other charges.
Manning already has spent three years in custody.
Whether Manning is a whistle-blower or a traitor to his country has been hotly debated.
Authorities have accused him of delivering three quarters of a million pages of classified documents and videos to the secret-sharing site WikiLeaks, which has never confirmed the soldier was the source of its information. The material covered numerous aspects of U.S. military strategy in Iraq, gave what some called a ground view of events in the Afghanistan war and revealed the inner workings of U.S. State Department diplomacy in leaked cables.
When he entered his guilty pleas on the lesser charges this year, Manning spent more than an hour in court reading a statement about why he leaked the information.
He said the information he passed on “upset” or “disturbed” him, but there was nothing he thought would harm the United States if it became public. Manning said he thought the documents were old and the situations they referred to had changed or ended.
“I believed if the public was aware of the data, it would start a public debate of the wars,” he said during his court-martial. He was “depressed about the situation there,” meaning Iraq, where he was stationed as an intelligence analyst.
The young soldier from a small town in Oklahoma said that he first tried to give the information to The Washington Post, but a reporter there didn’t seem like she took him seriously.
He left a voice mail for The New York Times and sent an e-mail to the newspaper but, he says, he didn’t hear back.
So, he said, he decided to give the information to WikiLeaks.
At some point, according to a California hacker Adrian Lamo, who says he communicated via instant messaging with Manning, the soldier confessed to possessing sensitive documents.
Shortly after alleged texts between Manning and Lamo were published in 2010, Lamo spoke to CNN.
He said he turned Manning in to authorities. His reason?
“… it seemed incomprehensible that someone could leak that massive amount of data and not have it endanger human life,” Lamo said. “If I had acted for my own comfort and convenience and sat on my hands with that information, and I had endangered national security … I would have been the worst kind of coward.”
As Manning’s court case dragged on, in December 2011 his defense argued that the military didn’t heed warning signs that the soldier was falling apart mentally.
A few months before Manning was arrested, Army command referred him to a psychologist for evaluation because he appeared to be “under considerable stress” and “did not appear to have any social support system and seemed hypersensitive to any criticism” and “was potentially a danger to himself and others.”
WikiLeaks, Assange and Manning
Manning was arrested within months of a video that appeared on WikiLeaks in April 2010. The secrets-busting site called it “Collateral Murder.” It appeared to be shot from a U.S. Apache helicopter as it fired on a group of people in Baghdad in 2007. A dozen people were killed; among them were a Reuters TV news cameraman and his driver.
The video showed that Reuters’ Saeed Chmagh survived an initial strafing by the helicopter, but apparently died when it opened fire again — this time on people attempting to get him off the sidewalk where he lay and into a van.
The footage quickly made news, elevating what was once a virtually unknown WikiLeaks to a globally recognized name. Later, a U.S. investigation into the attack found that the crew mistook the journalists’ cameras for weapons while seeking out insurgents who had been firing at American troops in the area.
But, according to court documents and testimony, by the time the world saw the video, Manning had already downloaded hundreds of thousands of classified documents and videos.
Within months, the soldier had been accused of using his computer skills to commit what the government called treason.
While Manning sat behind bars, WikiLeaks and its chief Julian Assange became household names.
WikiLeaks published a trove of documents related to the Afghanistan war in 2010, and followed that with a headline-making document dump about the Iraq war and then another release of diplomatic messages by U.S. State Department diplomats.
“We call those types of people that are willing to risk … being a martyr for all the rest of us, we call those people heroes,” Assange has told CNN’s Jake Tapper. “Bradley Manning is a hero.”
Assange described the case against Manning, specifically the aiding the enemy charge, as a serious attack against investigative journalism.
“It will be the end, essentially, of national security journalism in the United States,” he said on the eve of the verdict.
Assange spoke from the Ecuadorean Embassy in London. He sought refuge there to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning over allegations of sex crimes.
Assange has said he thinks the claims against him are Washington’s way of getting him arrested so that he can be extradited to the United States to face charges.
Manning’s supporters from the start
Manning had another well-known cheerleader — Daniel Ellsberg, famous for leaking the Pentagon Papers to The New York Times, which published them in 1971. The documents showed that several presidents knew that the Vietnam War was an unwinnable quagmire and that the government had lied to Congress and the public about the progress of the conflict.
Ellsberg told CNN that he views Manning as a “hero” and he shares a kinship with him. In fact, Ellsberg was so committed to making sure the world understood his support for the young soldier that he went to the White House in 2011 to be arrested while protesting.
“I was that young man; I was Bradley Manning,” he said. A YouTube video of Ellsberg talking about Manning and the case has been viewed 2,228 times.
Ellsberg’s voice has joined many across the country over the past three years. The Bradley Manning Support Network sprang up in 2010, made up of people from across the world, the vast majority united by the group’s website.
March and protest
On Tuesday night, supporters are planning to march from Dupont Circle Park in Washington to the White House in Manning’s name.
The Bradley Manning Support Network helped pay for Manning’s attorney David Coombs, and as of January, in the last count the group offers, there were 25,632 signatures on an online petition asking that all charges against Manning be dropped.
Coombs tried to have charges dismissed, without success, and kept a blog throughout his representation of Manning. Several of those entries describe documents that Coombs filed alleging that Manning had been mistreated during his initial detainment at Quantico military prison in Virginia. He blogged that Manning was “forced to stand naked at parade rest where he was in view of multiple guards” and was “required to wear a heavy and restrictive suicide smock which irritated his skin and, on one occasion, almost choked him.”
Manning was moved to Fort Leavenworth Joint Regional Correctional Facility in April 2011. He was later transferred to Fort Meade when hearings began in his case.
By Ashley Fantz and Chelsea J. Carter
CNN’s Larry Shaughnessy and Dana Ford contributed to this report.
Pfc. Bradley Manning will answer questions from the judge who is considering whether to accept his offer to plead guilty to some charges.
Manning's only public explanation for giving classified material to WikiLeaks can be found in logs of an online chat with a confidant-turned-government informant. In those chats, Manning wrote that he engineered the leak because "information should be free" and he wanted "people to see the truth."
Even if a judge accepts his guilty plea, prosecutors can still pursue more serious charges against Manning. One charge is aiding the enemy, which carries a potential life sentence.