Obama commutes prison sentence of WikiLeaks whistleblower Chelsea Manning

Former US Army analyst, who was serving 35-year sentence for leaking huge trove of classified data, will be freed in May

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 January, 2017, 7:23am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 January, 2017, 11:48pm

Chelsea Manning, the US Army private convicted of leaking thousands of classified reports to WikiLeaks will be released in May after US President Barack Obama reduced her 35-year prison sentence.

Obama’s move is something of a surprise, coming in the midst of US intelligence reports that Russia worked to tip the US election to Donald Trump.

Obama pardoned 64 people and commuted the sentences of 209 others - including 29-year-old Manning, in one of his final acts as president

Aides said Obama would commute more before he leaves office and Trump is inaugurated on Friday.

The most notable omission on the list was former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, who fled to fled to Hong Kong and then Russia after he leaked a vast trove of highly classified documents about US surveillance systems at home and abroad in 2013.

However, Snowden did tweet his thanks for shortening Manning’s prison sentence.

“Let it be said here in earnest, with good heart: Thanks, Obama.”

However, hours after Obama’s announcement Russian authorities extended Snowden’s Russian residency permit by two years, the foreign ministry said Wednesday.

Russia’s RIA news agency quoted his Russian lawyer Anatoly Kucherena as saying that Snowden could soon apply for Russian citizenship, since under Russian law he will qualify to apply once he has been resident for five years.

Snowden hasn’t formally applied for clemency, though his supporters have called for it. Yet the White House drew a distinction between the unapologetic Snowden and Manning, whom officials noted has expressed remorse and served several years already for her crime.

Manning was convicted in August 2013 of espionage and other offences, after admitting to the leak of 700,000 sensitive military and diplomatic documents.

The cache included military logs from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and cables offering sensitive -- and often embarrassingly bareknuckle - diplomatic assessments of foreign leaders and world events.

“The president’s concern was rooted in the fact that the sentence handed down is longer than sentences given to other individuals who committed comparable crimes,” a senior White House official said.

Obama’s commutation for Manning also raised fresh questions about the future of another figure involved in the army leaker’s case: Julian Assange.

WikiLeaks had earlier pledged, via tweet, that its founder would agree to US extradition if Obama granted clemency to Manning.

Holed up for more than four years at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, Assange has refused to meet prosecutors in Sweden, where he’s wanted on a rape allegation, fearing he would be extradited to the US to face espionage charges if he leaves the embassy.

But the US Justice Department has never announced any indictment of Assange.

White House officials said neither Assange’s fate nor separate concerns about WikiLeaks’ role in Russian hacking of the election factored into the decision to commute Manning’s sentence.

Obama has imposed sanctions on Russian intelligence services over the hack of Democratic party emails, some of which were released via WikiLeaks

Republicans immediately blasted the White House’s decision to release Manning, saying the commutation would encourage others to leak sensitive documents.

“President Obama now leaves in place a dangerous precedent that those who compromise our national security won’t be held accountable for their crimes,” House speaker Paul Ryan said.

There was no comment on the case from Trump, who has made mending ties with Russia a priority.

Associated Press, Reuters, Bloomberg