(Adds background, quotes from lawyer)
By Susan Heavey and Ian Simpson
WASHINGTON, Aug 22 (Reuters) - Bradley Manning, the U.S. soldier sentenced to 35 years in military prison for the biggest breach of classified documents in the nation's history, said on Thursday he is female and wants to live as a woman named Chelsea.
Manning received the sentence on Wednesday for giving more than 700,000 secret files, videos and diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks. His lawyers had argued the former Army intelligence analyst suffered a sexual identity crisis when he leaked the files while serving in Iraq in 2009 and 2010.
"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 by anchorwoman Savannah Guthrie on NBC News' "Today" show.
"Given the way that I feel and have felt since childhood, I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible," Manning said. "I also request that starting today you refer to me by my new name and use the feminine pronoun."
Manning's lawyer David Coombs said on the TV program he expected his client to get a pardon from U.S. President Barack Obama.
Manning was convicted last month on 20 charges, including espionage and theft. He will serve his sentence at the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Coombs has said Manning could be pardoned in seven years.
The Defense Department referred a call seeking comment to the U.S. Army, which did not respond immediately.
Coombs said Manning was seeking hormone therapy and not a sex-change operation.
"I'm hoping that Fort Leavenworth will do the right thing and provide that. If Fort Leavenworth does not, then I'm going to do everything in my power to make sure that they are forced to do so," he said.
"COMFORTABLE IN HER SKIN"
Asked if Manning wanted to be sent to a women's prison, Coombs said no.
"I think the ultimate goal is to be comfortable in her skin and to be the person that she's never had an opportunity to be," he said.
Coombs said he was not worried about Manning's safety in a military prison since inmates there were first-time offenders who wanted to complete their sentences and get out.
Experts generally view military prisons as safer than civilian prisons since the inmates are accustomed to hierarchy and discipline.
Manning had not wanted his sexual identity issues to become public, but they did after his arrest in 2010, Coombs said.
"Now that it is (public), unfortunately you have to deal with it in a public manner," he said.
A psychiatrist, Navy Reserve Captain David Moulton, testified during Manning's trial that he suffered from gender dysphoria, or wanting to be the opposite sex, as well as narcissism and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Defense lawyers had argued that Manning had been increasingly isolated and under intense stress when he leaked the files, and that his superiors had ignored warning signs.
They cited erratic behavior, including sending a picture of himself dressed as a woman to a superior and punching another soldier.
In a related case involving sexual-identity issues in prisons, a federal judge last year ordered Massachusetts officials to pay for a convicted murderer's sex-change operation. The judge ruled the state had violated the inmate's constitutional rights in denying the procedure. (Reporting by Susan Heavey and Ian Simpson; Editing by Scott Malone, Gerald E. McCormick and Jeffrey Benkoe)