As one of his final acts as outgoing president, Barack Obama commuted the sentence being served by Chelsea Manning, a transgender soldier who is more than six years into a 35-year sentence for leaking classified government and military documents to the WikiLeaks website.
Manning’s attorneys released her commutation application in November, asking Mr. Obama to shorten her sentence to the time she’s already served.
The president granted commutation of sentence to 209 individuals and pardons to 64 individuals on Tuesday. Manning is expected to be freed in May 2017.
NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden reacted to the news on Twitter.
“In five more months, you will be free. Thank you for what you did for everyone, Chelsea. Stay strong a while longer!” he wrote.
Manning, whose name was Bradley at the time of her arrest in 2010, worked as an intelligence analyst in Iraq. She was convicted in 2013 in military court of six violations of the Espionage Act and 14 other offenses for providing to WikiLeaks more than 700,000 secret military and State Department documents, as well as battlefield videos.
In a 2015 interview with “60 Minutes,” Manning’s supervisor in Iraq, Jihrleah Showman, said she noticed something about Manning was off.
“I said that he cannot be trusted with a security clearance. We can’t deploy him and he’s most likely a spy,” she said.
When Manning was sentenced, she was also dishonorably discharged from the Army, and reduced to the grade of “private E-1,” the lowest rank possible for an enlisted member of the Army.
She admitted to leaking the documents, saying it was intended to raise awareness about the toll the war had taken on innocent civilians. As part of Manning’s application for commutation, retired Air Force Col. Morris D. Davis, who was chief prosecutor for the military commissions at Guantanamo Bay for two years, said much of the information Manning leaked had little value and could be found through open sources on the internet.
In September 2016, after a lengthy lawsuit, Manning became the first transgender military inmate to be granted a request for gender transition surgery.
Manning attempted suicide multiple times citing the treatment she’s received in prison.
House Speaker Paul Ryan was not pleased about the decision Tuesday, tweeting, “Chelsea Manning’s treachery put American lives at risk and exposed some of our nation’s most sensitive secrets.”
It wasn’t immediately clear what Mr. Obama’s commutation for Manning would mean for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who had earlier pledged that he would agree to U.S. extradition if Mr. Obama granted clemency to Manning.
Holed up in the Ecuadorean embassy in London, Assange had expressed concern that if he left he would be extradited to the U.S. to face espionage charges. But the Justice Department has never publicly announced any indictment against Assange, who is also being investigated by Sweden for a possible sex crime.
White House officials didn’t say Tuesday whether there were sealed charges against Assange, but insisted his pledge to surrender to the U.S. didn’t play into Obama’s decision to commute Manning’s sentence.
Melinda Taylor, who serves on Assange’s legal team, said he would not go back on his word, though she didn’t elaborate about possible extradition.