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Chelsea Manning, Jailed Army Leaker, To Be Freed By President Barack Obama

It marks a turn for the Obama administration, long criticized for its hostility to whistleblowers.

18/01/2017 2:50 AM IST | Updated 19/01/2017 4:53 AM IST

President Barack Obama has commuted the sentence of Chelsea Manning, the U.S. soldier whom prosecutors deemed a traitor for sending hundreds of thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks. 

The commuted sentence, announced by Obama on Tuesday, will allow Manning to be freed on May 17 of this year. She was originally set to be freed in 2045, according to the New York Times.

Manning has been incarcerated since 2010, after she confessed to sending the secret military and diplomatic documents to the anti-secrecy organization. While she was seen as a traitor by some, many more considered her a whistleblower and hero. In 2013, she was sentenced to 35 years in prison for violating the Espionage Act and other offenses.

A source within the Justice Department told NBC News that Manning’s commutation was on Obama’s short list before it was announced.

Obama also commuted the sentence of 209 other individuals on Tuesday, and pardoned 64 others, according to a White House press release.

Former National Security Agency contractor and fellow whistleblower Edward Snowden tweeted his support for Manning last week.

In November, Manning asked to have her sentence reduced for time served. 

“I am not asking for a pardon of my conviction,” she wrote in a statement provided to The New York Times. “I understand that the various collateral consequences of the court-martial conviction will stay on my record forever. The sole relief I am asking for is to be released from military prison after serving six years of confinement as a person who did not intend to harm the interests of the United States or harm any service members.”

Wikileaks’ Julian Assange announced in a tweet posted to Wikileaks last week that he would agree to U.S. extradition if Manning was released.

The commutation marks a turn for Obama, whose administration has long been criticized for being openly hostile to whistleblowers ― and the end of a long, and at times devastating, road for Manning.

“I’m relieved and thankful that the president is doing the right thing and commuting Chelsea Manning’s sentence,” Chase Strangio, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT Project representing Manning, said in a statement. “This move could quite literally save Chelsea’s life, and we are all better off knowing that Chelsea Manning will walk out of prison a free woman, dedicated to making the world a better place and fighting for justice for so many.”

Amnesty International, which had campaigned for Manning’s release for several years, applauded Obama’s decision but stressed that there is still work to be done.

“Chelsea Manning exposed serious abuses, and as a result her own human rights have been violated by the U.S. government for years,” Margaret Huang, executive director of Amnesty International USA, said in a statement. “President Obama was right to commute her sentence, but it is long overdue. It is unconscionable that she languished in prison for years while those allegedly implicated by the information she revealed still haven’t been brought to justice.”

Mike Kemp/In Pictures via Getty Images
Demonstration for Chelsea Manning in London.

In September, Manning became a hero in the LGBTQ community for her hunger strike to demand gender confirmation treatment. Manning, who was assigned male at birth but identifies as a female, ended her strike after the Army complied with her request. 

She has also attempted suicide twice this year and has been isolated in solitary confinement. 

“I would say this is someone who’s never had a chance in life, who is extremely bright, who became extremely emotionally distressed at some point, who made a bad decision, who paid for that bad decision,” Manning’s aunt, Deborah Manning, told NBC News.

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