Whistleblower Chelsea Manning freed after 7 years in U.S. military prison

Chelsea Manning has been released from a U.S. military prison after serving seven years of a 35-year sentence. The former military intelligence analyst was responsible for a 2010 leak of classified government material to WikiLeaks.

Manning was convicted of passing classified government material to WikiLeaks

Protesters, including those at a Pride parade in San Francisco on June 28, 2015, consistently called for the release of Chelsea Manning. Manning was finally released from a military prison early Wednesday. (Elijah Nouvelage/Reuters)

Chelsea Manning has been released from a military prison in Kansas after serving seven years of a 35-year sentence handed down for the largest breach of classified information in U.S. history.

The former U.S. military intelligence analyst, who released documents, videos, diplomatic cables and battlefield accounts to WikiLeaks in 2010, was freed from Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, at 3 a.m. ET Wednesday, a U.S. army statement said.

Before his time as president ended, Barack Obama shortened Manning's sentence last January. The White House said Manning had served her time and accepted responsibility. However, the incoming president, Donald Trump, issued a tweet at the time calling her a traitor and saying she should not be released. The decision also angered national security experts, who say Manning put U.S. lives at risk.

In a now-famous image provided by the U.S. Army, Pte. Chelsea Manning poses for a photo wearing a wig and lipstick. Believed to be taken in early 2010, Manning first shared it with a superior in the army via email. (U.S. Army via The Associated Press)

Advocates have praised her fight to transition, which she announced shortly after she was convicted in 2013 of 20 counts, including six Espionage Act violations, theft and computer fraud. Manning, now 29, was acquitted of the most serious charge of aiding the enemy.

The soldier once known as Pte. 1st Class Bradley Manning was accused of providing more than 700,000 files of military intelligence to WikiLeaks, an international organization that publishes such information from anonymous sources.

She said she wanted to expose what she considered to be the U.S. military's disregard of how the Iraq War was affecting civilians, and that she was motivated "out of a love for my country."

Manning indicated in a statement released to ABC News that she would like to put the scandal of releasing military intelligence records behind her.

"I appreciate the wonderful support that I have received from so many people across the world over these past years. As I rebuild my life, I remind myself not to relive the past. The past will always affect me and I will keep that in mind while remembering that how it played out is only my starting point, not my final destination," the statement read.

Plans to move to Maryland

In interviews before her release, she said she intends to live in Maryland, where an aunt lives. Manning is from Crescent, Okla.

Manning's lawyer, speaking through the American Civil Liberties Union, said Manning will be focusing on her gender transition.

"She is waiting to experience life outside of prison before declaring any future plans," her lawyer Chase Strangio said.

Chelsea Manning was known as Bradley Manning when this photo taken on June 5, 2013. Here, Manning is escorted out of a courthouse in Fort Meade, Md., after the third day of a court martial. Manning, who remains an active duty soldier for now, announced in August 2013 that he wanted to be referred by his new name. (Patrick Semansky/Associated Press)

Manning announced her gender transition while the U.S. Army was keeping her in the men's prison and forcing her to wear a male haircut, Strangio said.

She twice tried to commit suicide and faced long stretches of solitary confinement. Last September, she staged a hunger strike, citing a lack of medical treatment to help her transition.

"After so many years of government control over her body and gender I know she is eager to grow her hair, express her gender and negotiate decisions on her own terms," Strangio said.

Last year, the U.S. defence department lifted a long-standing ban against transgender men and women serving 
openly in the military. The Pentagon estimated it affected 7,000 active-duty and reserve personnel.

With files from Reuters and The Associated Press