Bradley Manning is a hero and a patriot who did his country a service by passing secret cables to Wikileaks to his legion of supporters – some of whom even made the pilgrimage to his court martial at Fort Meade in Maryland to witness his trial. Nothing the US government said would persuade them to see the former US army privately differently.
Differently, however, is how Manning asked to be viewed today with a statement issued to NBC news that was both shocking and, at the same time, not entirely out of the blue. Manning henceforth would like to be addressed not as Bradley but as Chelsea, and referred by everyone to as “she” and no longer “he”.
One day after she was sentenced by Judge Denise Lind to 35 years in confinement for perpetrating the largest leak of classified materials in US history after her deployment in 2009 to Baghdad as an intelligence analyst, she declared her decision to switch gender and asked the Army to help her achieve it. “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,” Manning, 25, said in the statement read out to TV viewers across the nation.
She went on: “Given the way I feel and have felt since childhood, I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible. I also request that starting today you refer to me by my new name and use the feminine pronoun.”
The request is at the very least unusual and not likely to be embraced by her hosts at the US Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where she will serve out her sentence. In a terse statement, a military spokesperson said helping their ward become a woman was off the table. “The Army does not provide hormone therapy or sex-reassignment surgery,” she said.
Even before the court martial began in June, Manning, 25, who has American-British dual nationality, had often been described as gay in media reports. However, her much broader issues with sexuality and gender were thrust to centre-stage by defence lawyer David Coombs in the sentencing phase of the trial, which began earlier this month following her conviction of 20 out of 22 charges filed against her by prosecutors, including charges of espionage.
How much bearing these struggles may finally have had on Judge Lind – prosecutors had asked to impose a far harsher prison sentence of 60 years – remains unclear. But Mr Coombs had argued the emotional turmoil suffered by his client had been ignored or swept under the rug by the Army. The court saw a picture of Manning in a woman’s wig and make-up and an email she had written to a superior pleading for help with his gender confusion.
On NBC’s Today Show, Mr Coombs said Manning was not seeking sex-change surgery but hormone therapy. He said: “I’m hoping Fort Leavenworth will do the right thing and provide that. If it does not, then I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure they are forced to do so.” He also denied Manning wanted to be assigned to an all-female jail.