President Barack Obama has commuted the majority of Chelsea Manning’s sentence in his most prominent act of clemency to date, according to the White House.
The sentence reduction, which will soon free Manning, 29, comes just three days before a new president is inaugurated. Manning, a former Army intelligence analyst, was responsible for one of the largest leaks of classified information in U.S. history.
The commutation represents a dramatic reduction of Manning’s 35-year sentence, which came down in 2013. Manning has served seven years behind bars. The former U.S. Army intelligence analyst was convicted of “leaking classified Army documents” to WikiLeaks.
Manning is transgender and has suffered hardships in prison, attempting to commit suicide while behind bars. Prosecutors called Manning a traitor, but others have labeled her a whistleblower. House Speaker Paul Ryan and other Republicans condemned the commutation, with Ryan accusing Manning of “treachery.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Manning Will Be Released From Prison in May
Manning would have been in prison until 2045 had Obama not acted. The New York Times described Manning’s actions as “an enormous 2010 leak that revealed American military and diplomatic activities around the world” and “disrupted the administration.” The leak also helped turn WikiLeaks into a household name.
The Times also reported that Manning’s sentence was the longest in history for a leak conviction. Some Republicans swiftly condemned the commutation.
This is what the official Obama announcement of the Manning commutation reads:
“Chelsea Elizabeth Manning – Oklahoma City, OK
Offense: One specification of wrongful and wanton publication to the internet intelligence belonging to the United States; five specifications of stealing, purloining or knowingly converting U.S. government records; six specifications of willful communication of information relating to the national defense; one specification of willful communication of information in unlawful possession; one specification of willful communication of information relating to the national defense by exceeding authorized access to a U.S. government computer; one specification of willful communication of information relating to the national defense obtained by accessing a U.S. government computer; five specifications of failure to obey order or regulation; U.S. Army Court Martial
Sentence: 35 years’ imprisonment (August 21, 2013)
Commutation Grant: Prison sentence commuted to expire on May 17, 2017.”
2. Julian Assange Previously Said He Would Agree to U.S. Extradition if Obama Gave Manning Clemency
Raising the drama surrounding the announcement, WikiLeaks’ founder, Julian Assange, had previously tweeted that he would accept extradition to the U.S. if Obama granted clemency to Manning. Assange is currently holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London.
It remains to be seen whether Assange will follow through on the pledge, but Assange’s lawyer said he stands by the extradition comment.
Assange did release a statement on the commutation.
And WikiLeaks then published a tweet indicating that Assange now thinks he could get a fair trial in the United States.
A sentence commutation is an act of clemency, as is a pardon, the latter of which Obama did not grant. Three years ago, Manning had sought a pardon, but the request was rejected; this time around, she sought a sentence commutation instead, saying, “I should have waited. I needed time to absorb the conviction, and to reflect on my actions. I also needed time to grow and mature as a person,” NBC News reported.
In seeking clemency, Manning wrote, according to The Huffington Post: “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.”
3. Manning Was an Intelligence Analyst Who Leaked Government Secrets to WikiLeaks in One of History’s Biggest Leaks
Manning – formerly known as Bradley Manning – is a transgender former Army intelligence analyst accused of espionage. Although Manning identifies as female, she is serving her time “in a men’s prison in Fort Leavenworth” Kansas and has fought the Army for hormone therapy and gender reassignment surgery, reported Washington Blade. She previously went on a hunger strike in prison, and she has found support among LGBTQ activists.
According to the BBC, the Manning leak was “one of the largest breaches of classified material in U.S. history.” According to Fox News, Manning has said she leaked the documents to “raise public awareness about the effects of war on civilians, and has said she was confronting gender dysphoria at the time of the leaks while deployed in Iraq.”
In December, the president’s press secretary had dodged questions asking about possible clemency for Manning. According to NBC News, Manning’s espionage involved giving “700,000 military files and diplomatic cables” to WikiLeaks.
Manning enjoys a bulwark of support on social media. A social media movement had recently taken off of people hoping to hug Manning if she was freed. Manning’s most recent tweet relates to that movement.
A petition asked the president to commute Manning’s sentence to time served. That’s essentially what Obama did. More than 117,00 people have signed it, reported NBC News.
Amnesty International has applauded the commutation of Manning’s sentence, writing in a news release, “Chelsea Manning exposed serious abuses, and as a result her own human rights have been violated by the U.S. government for years. 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.”
According to CNN, the Manning leak “included a classified video of a U.S. helicopter attacking civilians and journalists in Iraq in 2007.”
4. Some Want the president to Pardon Edward Snowden & Bo Bergdahl
If Obama is commuting the sentences of people some believe defied the government because of their consciences, some think Edward Snowden or Bo Bergdahl could be next.
However, they were not on the January 17 commutation list. Snowden had urged Obama to grant Manning clemency.
After the commutation, he tweeted thanks to the president.
Obama has previously said it was unlikely he would pardon the former NSA contractor because Snowden hadn’t appeared before a court. Obama said of Snowden: “I think that Mr. Snowden raised some legitimate concerns. How he did it was something that did not follow the procedures and practices of our intelligence community. If everybody took the approach that I make my own decisions about these issues, then it would be very hard to have an organized government or any kind of national security system.”
Amnesty International is among those calling for a Snowden pardon. Others are hoping that Obama will pardon American Indian activist Leonard Peltier, who was convicted of the murder of FBI agents.
Bergdahl disappeared from his military base in Afghanistan and faces a 2017 court martial. He faces charges of “desertion” and “misbehavior before the enemy,” said Fox News.
5. The President Has Previously Commuted the Sentences of Many Federal Drug Offenders & Made Some Other High Profile Acts of Clemency
Thus far, President Obama has used his clemency powers to commute the sentences of a slew of federal drug dealers, and more of those commutations came down January 17.
Indeed, in the press statement announcing the act of clemency, the President said he had granted commutation of sentence to 209 individuals and pardons to 64 individuals.
Among those was former Joint Chief of Staff vice chairman James Cartwright, “who pleaded guilty in October to a single charge of making false statements to federal investigators in 2012 when he was questioned about leaking top secret information on US efforts to cripple Iran’s nuclear program to two journalists,” CNN reported.
Oscar López Rivera, described by NPR as fighting for Puerto Rican independence with a “militant group,” also received a sentence commutation from the president.
He was convicted of “seditious conspiracy” for trying “to overthrow the the government of the United States, in relation to his membership in the Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional, or FALN,” reported NPR, which added that FALN was responsible for more than 70 bombings in the 1970s and 1980s and five deaths.
Obama also pardoned Willie McCovey, a member of the baseball Hall of Fame.