Obama commutes WikiLeaks source Chelsea Manning’s sentence

Washington: US President Barack Obama on Tuesday shortened the prison sentence of Chelsea Manning, the former US military analyst who was responsible for a 2010 leak of classified materials to anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, the biggest such breach in US history.

 Obama commutes WikiLeaks source Chelsea Manning’s sentence

Chelsea Manning. AP

A White House official said there was no connection between Manning's commutation and renewed US government concern about WikiLeaks' actions during last year's presidential election, or a promise by its founder Julian Assange to accept extradition if Manning was freed. 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 -- for which she was sentenced to serve 35 years in prison.

Obama, in one of his final acts before leaving office, reduced her sentence to seven years, angering some Republicans. "This is just outrageous," House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan said in a statement. Ryan said the decision was a "dangerous precedent" for those who leak materials about national security. "Chelsea Manning’s treachery put American lives at risk and exposed some of our nation’s most sensitive secrets," Ryan said. 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 US Apache helicopter firing at suspected insurgents in Iraq, killing a dozen people including two Reuters news staff. Republican Senator Tom Cotton said the leak endangered troops, intelligence officers, diplomats and allies."We ought not treat a traitor like a martyr," Cotton said.

Manning, formerly known as US 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 17 May. Manning, who twice tried to kill herself last year and who has struggled to cope as a transgender woman in the Fort Leavenworth men's military prison, Kansas, has accepted responsibility for leaking the material -- a factor that fed into Obama's decision, a White House official told reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The official said Obama's decision was rooted in Manning's sentence being longer than sentences given to others who had committed comparable crimes. Obama, who leaves office on Friday and is scheduled to give his final press conference on Wednesday, is expected to discuss his decision then. WikiLeaks also published emails in the weeks leading up to the 8 November presidential election that US intelligence agencies have concluded that Russian intelligence agencies hacked the Democratic National Committee and the accounts of leading Democrats as part of a campaign to influence the election.

But Obama's decision had nothing to do with the latest WikiLeaks controversy, the White House official said. "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," the official said on a conference call with reporters.

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. Civil rights groups praised the move, calling it overdue. "Chelsea Manning exposed serious abuses, and as a result her own human rights have been violated by the US government for years," said Margaret Huang, executive director of Amnesty International USA.

Updated Date: Jan 18, 2017 07:54:08 IST