US soldier Bradley Manning, sentenced for leaking classified US documents, said in a statement on NBC News' Today program on Thursday that he is female and wants to live as a woman named Chelsea.
Manning, 25, was sentenced on Wednesday to 35 years in a military prison for turning over classified files to WikiLeaks in the biggest breach of secret data in the nation's history.
Earlier during trial, the defense focused on Manning's inner turmoil over his gender identity and isolation in a military that, at the time, barred homosexuals from serving openly. Mental health experts testified that the stress, combined with narcissistic tendencies and youthful idealism, caused Manning to believe he could change the way the world perceived war by leaking classified information.
Meanwhile, the fight to free Manning takes a new turn as his lawyer says he will ask the Army for leniency — and the White House for a pardon.
"The time to end Brad's suffering is now," Defence Attorney David Coombs told a news conference. "The time for our president to focus on protecting whistleblowers instead of punishing them is now."
Manning faces the stiffest punishment ever handed out in the US for leaking information to the media. With good behavior and credit for the more than three years he has been held, Manning could be out in as little as seven years, Coombs said.
Still, the lawyer criticized the government's pursuit of Manning for what the soldier said was an effort to expose wrongdoing and prompt public debate of government policies.
Manning has been called both a whistleblower and a traitor for giving more than 700,000 classified military and diplomatic documents, plus battlefield footage, to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks.
Coombs said he will file a request early next week that President Barack Obama pardon Manning or commute his sentence to time served.
Coombs read from a letter Manning will send to the president in which he said: "I regret if my actions hurt anyone or harmed the United States. It was never my intent to hurt anyone." Manning said he chose to disclose classified information, "out of a love for my country and a sense of duty to others".
The White House said the request would be considered "like any other application". However, a pardon seems unlikely.
Manning's case was part of an unprecedented string of prosecutions brought by the US government in a crackdown on security breaches. The Obama administration has charged seven people with leaking to the media; only three people were prosecuted under all previous presidents combined.