FORT MEADE, Md. - Three years after Bradley Manning rocked the Pentagon by leaking a mountain of secrets, the soldier created a whole new set of potential complications for the military Thursday when he announced he intends to live as a woman named Chelsea and undergo hormone treatment.
Manning's gender-identity struggle - his sense that he is a woman trapped in a man's body - was brought up in his defense at his court-martial, and a photo of him in a blond wig and lipstick was submitted as evidence.
But the latest twist, announced the morning after Manning was sentenced to 35 years behind bars, surprised many and confronted the Pentagon with questions about where and how he 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."
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 he 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."
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 appears to be the first time the therapy had come up for a military prisoner.
Manning, 25, was convicted of Espionage Act violations and 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.