(Adds comment on pardon, background on case, byline)
By Ian Simpson
WASHINGTON, Sept 4 (Reuters) - The U.S. soldier convicted of providing secret files to WikiLeaks in the biggest breach of classified materials in the nation’s history has asked for a presidential pardon, supporters said on Wednesday.
The request for Chelsea, formerly known as Bradley, Manning, was filed by attorney David Coombs on Tuesday, according to a statement on the Pardon Private Manning website.
“I urge you to consider this matter closely and to take a positive step towards protecting whistleblowers who release information to the media for the public good by either reducing Private Manning’s sentence to time served, or by granting him a full pardon,” Coombs said in a letter to President Barack Obama via the Justice Department and to Army Secretary John McHugh carried on the website.
The application includes a supporting letter from Amnesty International.
Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, said there was very little chance the Obama administration would grant a pardon, especially with its “full-bore approach” to prosecuting Manning.
“It would make them look quite schizoid if at this point a pardon was granted,” she said.
A court-martial convicted Manning, 25, in July of 20 charges, including espionage and theft, for providing more than 700,000 classified files, videos and diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks, a pro-transparency website.
Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison on Aug. 21. Although the soldier was found not guilty of the most serious charge, aiding the enemy, the sentence was the longest ever handed down for turning over secrets to the media.
The day after sentencing, the soldier issued a statement that said Bradley Manning was a female who wanted to live as a woman named Chelsea.
A psychiatrist at Manning’s sentencing testified to having diagnosed the soldier as having gender dysphoria, or wanting to be the opposite sex. Manning’s statement said the soldier wanted to undergo female hormone treatment.
The White House has said that a pardon request from Manning would be considered “like any other application.”
Obama has issued far fewer pardons than the two previous presidents, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, according to the Justice Department’s Office of the Pardon Attorney.
Obama has received 1,496 petitions for pardons and granted 2.6 percent of them. Bush granted 7.5 percent of 2,498 pardon petitions, and Clinton approved almost one in five of the 2,001 requests he received.
Although Manning had asked to be referred to by female pronouns, the soldier signed the pardon request “Bradley Manning” and Coombs’ letter referred to Manning as “Bradley” and used male pronouns.
Coombs said in a blog post last week that “Bradley Manning” and male pronouns would still be used in some cases. They include references to the trial, legal documents, communication with the government, the petition to the White House and the soldier’s mail. (Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Scott Malone and Andrew Hay)