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Bradley Manning: I want to live as a woman

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By Scott Stump, TODAY

(NBC) - Bradley Manning, the Army private sentenced to military prison for leaking classified documents, revealed 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 on TODAY Thursday. "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. "I look forward to receiving letters from supporters and having the opportunity to write back."

Manning signed the letter "Chelsea E. Manning."

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.

"The stress that he was under was mostly to give context to what was going on at the time," Manning's lawyer, David Coombs, told Savannah Guthrie on TODAY Thursday. "It was never an excuse because that's not what drove his actions. What drove his actions was a strong moral compass."

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.

Coombs said he is "hoping" that Fort Leavenworth "would do the right thing" and provide hormone therapy for Manning. "If Fort Leavenworth does not, then I'm going to do everything in my power to make sure they are forced to do so."

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 earlier this week.

In the U.S. prison system, transgender prisoners who have not had genital surgery are generally assigned to live with their birth-sex peers, but the military policy is unclear.

On whether Manning will seek sexual reassignment surgery, Coombs said "I haven't really discussed that aspect with her. Really, it's more about getting the hormone therapy, so at this point I don't know the answer to that."

Coombs told Guthrie that he expects Manning "to be out" on parole in seven years. "But I actually expect him to get pardoned," Coombs continued. "At least that's what my hope is, that the president will in fact pardon him."

Coombs said he doesn't fear for Manning's safety in prison. "Everyone that's in a military prison is a first-time offender. These are soldiers who have done something wrong, have gone to prison and are really just trying to do their time and then get out."

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."

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