Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, who was convicted of leaking classified intelligence to the website WikiLeaks, may avoid having to serve time at a maximum-security military prison after saying he wants to live the rest of his life as a woman.
Manning said he was transgender on Thursday, a day after being sentenced by a judge to serve a 35-year term. In a statement aired Thursday on NBC's "Today" show, Manning asked to be identified by his new name, "Chelsea," and said he wants to begin hormone treatments to spur bodily change.
"I am Chelsea Manning," he wrote. "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. I hope that you will support me in this transition."
The confession may be an attempt by Manning's defense to get him transferred out of the United States Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., the military's only maximum-security facility where its most dangerous criminals are housed, according to Greg Rinckey, managing partner at the law firm Tully Rinckey Pllc in Albany, N.Y.
"This could potentially be a defense ploy to get him out of being sent to Fort Leavenworth, which is where the military sends the worst of the worst," he said in a telephone interview. "It's not a desirable place to go."
During the appeals process, Manning's defense may argue that the military doesn't have special housing for transgendered people at the facility, which is believed to house only men, and that he should be transferred to a federal penitentiary, Rinckey said.
"He's going to be filing motions to try to get his confinement custody moved," he said.
The 25-year-old apologized for passing hundreds of thousands of battlefield reports and diplomatic cables while serving as an intelligence analyst in Iraq in 2010 to WikiLeaks, a website founded by Julian Assange. Manning's defense blamed the actions in part on his struggles with a gender-identify disorder and traumatic upbringing.
The soldier faced as many as 90 years in prison after being convicted last month of multiple crimes, including violating the 1917 Espionage Act. The prosecution asked that he serve at least 60 years, while the defense requested a term of no more than 25 years. The sentencing came after a 12-week trial and protracted legal battle.
Manning was hailed as a whistleblower by supporters that include the American Civil Liberties Union, a liberal advocacy group based in New York; Daniel Ellsberg, the former Rand Corp. analyst who in 1971 leaked the Pentagon Papers in protest against the Vietnam War; and numerous Hollywood celebrities who participated in a video released this year, titled "I am Bradley Manning."
Manning is required to serve a third of the sentence before he is eligible for parole. The three and a half years he served awaiting trial will be included in time served. Therefore, he may be eligible for parole in less than 10 years.
Manning was sentenced to be dishonorably discharged, though he will remain in the military while serving out the remainder of his sentence. He will continue to receive medical care under the military's health care system, known as Tricare, which is unlikely to cover any transgender treatment, according to Rinckey.
"The military medical system does not cover gender transformation procedures. It's not medically necessary," he said. "The military will say, 'You enlisted as a male. You're a male and you're going to be incarcerated as such.'"