WASHINGTON In one of his final acts before
leaving office, President Barack Obama on Tuesday shortened the
prison sentence of former U.S. military intelligence analyst
Chelsea Manning, who was responsible for the biggest breach of
classified materials in U.S. history to anti-secrecy group
WikiLeaks in 2010.
A White House official said there was no connection between
Manning’s commutation and renewed U.S. government concern about
WikiLeaks in last year’s presidential election, or a promise by
its founder Julian Assange to accept extradition if Manning was
Manning has been a focus of a worldwide debate on government
secrecy since she provided more than 700,000 documents, videos,
diplomatic cables and battlefield accounts to WikiLeaks – a leak
for which she was sentenced to serve 35 years in prison and now
reduced to seven years.
Wikileaks also published emails in the weeks leading up to
the Nov. 8 presidential election that U.S. intelligence agencies
have concluded that Russian intelligence agencies hacked from
the Democratic National Committee and the accounts of leading
Democrats, part of a campaign to influence the election.
A WikiLeaks tweet on Tuesday quoted Assange as saying: “Thank you to everyone who campaigned for Chelsea Manning’s
clemency. Your courage & determination made the impossible
Assange has been holed up at Ecuador’s London embassy since
2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden for the investigation of
allegations, which he denies, that he committed rape in 2010. He
has said he fears extradition from Sweden to the United States,
where there is an open criminal investigation into the
activities of WikiLeaks.
“The president’s decision to grant clemency and offer
commutation to Chelsea Manning was not influenced in any way by
public comments from Assange or the WikiLeaks organization,” a
White House official said on a conference call with reporters.
Manning, formerly known as U.S. Army Private First Class
Bradley Manning, was born male but revealed after being
convicted of espionage that she identifies as a woman. The White
House said her sentence would end on May 17 this year.
Manning, who twice tried to kill herself last year and has
struggled to cope as a transgender woman in the Fort
Leavenworth, Kansas, men’s military prison, accepted
responsibility for leaking the material.
Manning was working as an intelligence analyst in Baghdad in
2010 when she gave WikiLeaks a trove of diplomatic cables and
battlefield accounts that included a 2007 gunsight video of a
U.S. Apache helicopter firing at suspected insurgents in Iraq,
killing a dozen people including two Reuters news staff.
Her attorney had her sentence exceeded international legal
Manning’s clemency was criticized by Republican Senator Tom
Cotton, who said Manning endangered troops, intelligence
officers, diplomats and allies with the leaks.
“We ought not treat a traitor like a martyr,” Cotton said.
But civil rights groups praised the move, calling it
“Chelsea Manning exposed serious abuses, and as a result her
own human rights have been violated by the U.S. government for
years,” said Margaret Huang, executive director of Amnesty
Obama also pardoned retired U.S. Marine Corps general James
Cartwright who pleaded guilty in October to making false
statements to the FBI during an investigation into leaks of
Manning was among 209 commutations granted by Obama on
Tuesday and Cartwright was among 64 pardons.
Most of the commutations were a part of Obama’s effort to
reduce the number of people serving long sentences for
non-violent drug offenses. The White House official, who spoke
to reporters on condition of anonymity, said Obama would likely
announce more such commutations on Thursday. (Additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle and Phillip Stewart)
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