A day after being sentenced to 30 years in prison for espionage, Bradley Manning, the Army private and WikiLeaks leaker, announced that he wants to be identified as a woman, and he is changing his name to Chelsea Manning.
"I am Chelsea Manning. I am female," Manning said in a written statement, adding "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)."
Bradley Manning's identification as transgender, and as a woman came as bit of a surprise when it arose during her sentencing hearing; her lawyers made the point to say that struggles with gender identity may have been a factor in her cooperation with WikiLeaks. "This is my problem. I’ve had signs of it for a very long time. It’s caused problems within my family. I thought a career in the military would get rid of it," Manning wrote in a 2010 e-mail to his supervisor and included a picture of her as a woman with long blonde hair (above).
Manning's lawyer, David Coombs, appeared on the Today show and said that Manning's priority will be obtaining hormones, but Coombs said he does not know whether or not Manning will pursue gender reassignment surgery (or if she will attempt to force the government pay for it).
But Coombs did say he was confident that Chelsea Manning would qualify for parole while serving her 35-year sentence and be out in seven years time, and that she should be pardoned by the president. "I understand that my actions violated the law; I regret if my actions hurt anyone or harmed the United States. It was never my intent to hurt anyone. I only wanted to help people," Manning wrote in a letter to President Obama requesting pardon. "If you deny my request for a pardon, I will serve my time knowing that sometimes you have to pay a heavy price to live in a free society."
Here is Manning's letter to President Obama (obtained by the AP):
The decisions that I made in 2010 were made out of a concern for my country and the world that we live in. Since the tragic events of 9/11, our country has been at war. We’ve been at war with an enemy that chooses not to meet us on any traditional battlefield, and due to this fact we’ve had to alter our methods of combating the risks posed to us and our way of life.
I initially agreed with these methods and chose to volunteer to help defend my country. It was not until I was in Iraq and reading secret military reports on a daily basis that I started to question the morality of what we were doing. It was at this time I realized that (in) our efforts to meet the risk posed to us by the enemy, we have forgotten our humanity. We consciously elected to devalue human life both in Iraq and Afghanistan. When we engaged those that we perceived were the enemy, we sometimes killed innocent civilians. Whenever we killed innocent civilians, instead of accepting responsibility for our conduct, we elected to hide behind the veil of national security and classified information in order to avoid any public accountability.
In our zeal to kill the enemy, we internally debated the definition of torture. We held individuals at Guantanamo for years without due process. We inexplicably turned a blind eye to torture and executions by the Iraqi government. And we stomached countless other acts in the name of our war on terror.
Patriotism is often the cry extolled when morally questionable acts are advocated by those in power. When these cries of patriotism drown out any logically based dissension, it is usually the American soldier that is given the order to carry out some ill-conceived mission.
Our nation has had similar dark moments for the virtues of democracy — the Trail of Tears, the Dred Scott decision, McCarthyism, and the Japanese-American internment camps — to mention a few. I am confident that many of the actions since 9/11 will one day be viewed in a similar light.
As the late Howard Zinn once said, “There is not a flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people.”
I understand that my actions violated the law; I regret if my actions hurt anyone or harmed the United States. It was never my intent to hurt anyone. I only wanted to help people. When I chose to disclose classified information, I did so out of a love for my country and a sense of duty to others.
If you deny my request for a pardon, I will serve my time knowing that sometimes you have to pay a heavy price to live in a free society. I will gladly pay that price if it means we could have a country that is truly conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all women and men are created equal.
Here's Manning's full statement regarding her identity:
Subject: The Next Stage of My Life
I want to thank everybody who has supported me over the last three years. Throughout this long ordeal, your letters of support and encouragement have helped keep me strong. 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.
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. I hope that you will support me in this transition. 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). I look forward to receiving letters from supporters and having the opportunity to write back.
Chelsea E. Manning
Editor's note: We have changed the gender of some pronouns used in the original version of this story. After referring to Manning's identity as a male in the lead sentence, we are using feminine pronouns to refer to her going forward.