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WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama has commuted the prison sentence of former U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning, who leaked hundreds of thousands of military documents to anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks.
Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison in 2013. She now will be freed in May.
She is among 209 prison commutations and 64 pardons Obama issued Tuesday as his presidency draws to a close. Most of the others were serving sentences for nonviolent drug offenses.
“These 273 individuals learned that our nation is a forgiving nation where hard work and a commitment to rehabilitation can lead to a second chance, and where wrongs from the past will not deprive an individual of the opportunity to move forward,” White House counsel Neil Eggleston said Tuesday.
Chelsea Manning was formerly Bradley Manning when he handed over more than 700,000 classified U.S. military documents to WikiLeaks. They included battlefield reports from Afghanistan and Iraq, and State Department cables.
Government prosecutors argued that Manning’s actions could have endangered the lives of U.S. servicemen and women.
The defense argued that Manning wanted to expose what they called the truth about U.S. military involvement, and that most of the information was worthless to anyone wanting to harm U.S. interests.
Gender Identity Confusion
Manning admitted leaking the documents and said it was done, in part, because of his gender identity confusion.
He declared himself to be a woman after his sentencing, changed his named from Bradley to Chelsea, and said he plans to undergo a sex change surgery.
Manning’s lawyers say she has tried to commit suicide twice, and say commuting her sentence could “quite literally save Chelsea’s life.”
A White House official says Obama’s decision was based on the fact that Manning’s 35-year sentence was a lot longer than what was handed out to those who committed similar crimes.
WikiLeaks called the Manning commutation a “victory.” Founder Julian Assange said the “courage and determination” of everyone who campaigned on Manning’s behalf made the “impossible possible.”
But some Republican lawmakers are furious that Manning will soon be free.
House Speaker Paul Ryan called it “just outrageous,” tweeting that “Chelsea Manning’s treachery put American lives at risk and exposed some of our nation’s most sensitive secrets.”
He accused Obama of setting a “dangerous precedent.”
Alabama Senator Tom Cotton said Manning should be treated like a traitor, not a martyr.
Among those President Obama pardoned are retired Marine General and former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff James Cartwright.
He pleaded guilty in October to charges of lying to federal investigators about leaking classified information about a U.S. cyberattack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
The details appeared in a book by New York Times reporter David Sanger.
Cartwright was awaiting sentencing. Federal prosecutors were asking for a 2-year prison term.