Obama commutes Chelsea Manning's prison sentence

U.S. President Barack Obama is commuting the prison sentence of Chelsea Manning, the former army intelligence analyst who leaked classified documents to WikiLeaks. Her sentence is now set to expire May 17.

Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan called the move 'just outrageous'

Chelsea Manning sentence commuted

6 years ago
Duration 2:20
U.S. President Barack Obama is granting clemency to former army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning, who leaked classified documents to Wikileaks

U.S. President Barack Obama is commuting the prison sentence of Chelsea Manning, the former army intelligence analyst who leaked classified documents.

The White House says Manning is one of 209 inmates whose sentences Obama is shortening.

Manning is more than six years into a 35-year sentence for leaking classified government and military documents to the website WikiLeaks. Her sentence is now set to expire May 17.

She was known as Bradley Manning at the time of her 2010 arrest and attempted suicide twice last year.

Chase Strangio, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union's LGBT Project who has been representing Manning, said he was "relieved and thankful" that the president commuted the decades-long sentence.

"Since she was first taken into custody, Chelsea has been subjected to long stretches of solitary confinement — including for attempting suicide — and has been denied access to medically necessary health care," Strangio said, adding that the president's decision "could quite literally" save Manning's life.

Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who leaked classified information on warrantless surveillance of U.S. citizens, praised the move on Twitter.

White House officials said the president was inclined to grant clemency to Manning because she had expressed remorse for her crimes and had served several years of her sentence. The officials briefed reporters on a conference call on condition of anonymity.

"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," said Strangio, adding that Obama's action could "quite literally save Chelsea's life."

Chelsea Manning was convicted of leaking classified government and military documents to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks. (U.S. Army via Associated Press)

WikiLeaks said Obama may have saved Manning's life by granting her clemency. But the secret-spilling site said little about founder Julian Assange's pledge that he would agree to extradition to the U.S. if Manning got clemency.

"Ms. Manning is a hero, whose bravery should be applauded," Assange said in the statement. "Journalists, publishers, and their sources serve the public interest and promote democracy by distributing authentic information on key matters such as human rights abuses and illegal acts by government officials. They should not be prosecuted."

Assange went on to demand that the U.S. government "should immediately end its war on whistleblowers and publishers, such as WikiLeaks and myself," but he made no mention of a pledge that he made on Twitter five days ago in which he appeared to offer himself up to U.S. authorities in return for Manning's freedom.

Assange lawyer Melinda Taylor suggested that he wouldn't go back on his word. "Everything that he has said he's standing by," she said in a brief telephone conversation with The Associated Press.

She added that WikiLeaks has yet to learn from U.S. and British authorities whether the American government has requested Assange's extradition to the U.S.

Assange took refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London more than four years ago to avoid extradition to Sweden, where authorities are investigating his role in a possible sex crime. Assange has refused to travel to Sweden, saying he fears being extradited to the U.S. over his involvement in publishing classified documents.

'Manning's treachery put American lives at risk'

But Obama's move was panned by Manning's critics, including several prominent Republicans. House Speaker Paul Ryan called the move "just outrageous."

"Chelsea Manning's treachery put American lives at risk and exposed some of our nation's most sensitive secrets," said Ryan, who is from Wisconsin. "President Obama now leaves in place a dangerous precedent that those who compromise our national security won't be held accountable for their crimes."

The U.S. Army and the Pentagon both declined to comment on Obama's decision.

U.S. 'a forgiving nation'

Obama is also pardoning 64 people, including retired general James Cartwright, who was charged with making false statements during a probe into disclosure of classified information.

"These 273 individuals learned that our nation is a forgiving nation," said White House counsel Neil Eggleston, "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."

The actions are permanent, and can't be undone by president-elect Donald Trump. White House officials said Obama would grant clemency to more individuals on Thursday — his final day in office — but that batch was not expected to include prominent individuals like Manning.

Most of the other people receiving commutations were serving sentences for non-violent drug offences.

With files from CBC News