Obama Commutes Sentence of Chelsea Manning

Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, center, is escorted into a courthouse in Fort Meade, Md., in November.

President Barack Obama has commuted the sentence of Chelsea Manning, the former Army intelligence analyst who leaked information to the website WikiLeaks, the White House announced Tuesday.

Manning, 29, is imprisoned at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas as part of a 35-year sentence she received in August 2013 after pleading guilty to multiple charges under the Espionage Act. She will now be freed May 17 rather than in 2045, according to a release from the White House.

Manning was among 209 inmates whose sentences were shortened by Obama. The president also pardoned another 64 people facing crimes, including retired Marine Gen. James Cartwright, the former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who pleaded guilty in October to lying to federal investigators about discussing the Iranian nuclear program with reporters.

"With 209 commutations and 64 pardons, @POTUS just gave 273 Americans a second chance," stated the White House Twitter account.

Manning's attorney, David Coombs, didn't immediately return a call requesting comment.

"After this case, I had to tell Chelsea: 'I've represented murderers. I've represented rapists. I've represented child molesters. And none of them received 35 years,' " Coombs recently told NBC News.

Edward Snowden, who was notably missing from the list and whose own high-profile leak case some say played a role in Manning's sentencing, recently tweeted on the matter, "Mr. President, if you grant only one act of clemency as you exit the White House, please: free Chelsea Manning. You alone can save her life."

Manning, who was from Oklahoma City and previously known as Bradley, has sought to undergo gender reassignment surgery in prison. She attempted suicide twice last year -- once in July, and again in October while in solitary confinement -- and also underwent a hunger strike.

She became a lightning rod for controversy after her 2010 arrest while serving as an intelligence analyst in Iraq. She faced 20 charges for illegally passing several hundred thousand documents, including military and diplomatic cables, to the anti-secrecy site WikiLeaks.

Specifically, Manning's crimes included one charge of wrongful and wanton publication to the internet intelligence belonging to the United States; five charges of stealing, purloining or knowingly converting U.S. government records; six charges of willful communication of information relating to the national defense; one charge of willful communication of information in unlawful possession; one charge of willful communication of information relating to the national defense by exceeding authorized access to a U.S. government computer; one charge of willful communication of information relating to the national defense obtained by accessing a U.S. government computer; and five charges of failure to obey order or regulation, according to the White House.

Manning's supporters have called her a hero, her detractors a traitor.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican from Wisconsin, blasted Obama's decision. "This is outrageous," he said, The Washington Examiner reported. "Chelsea Mannings treachery put American lives at risk and exposed some of our nation's most sensitive secrets."

Rep. William "Mac" Thornberry, a Republican from Texas and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, also criticized the decision.

"Inmate Manning was convicted of multiple acts of espionage against the United States and other serious military misconduct," he said in a statement. "These actions potentially put our country and fellow soldiers at serious risk. The president's commutation of Manning's sentence sends a terrible message to the world that the penalties for damaging our security can be swayed by politics."

Even Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, an Obama appointee, disagreed with the move, NBC News reported, citing an unnamed U.S. official.

Some Military.com readers said they weren't surprised by the presidential action.

"It wasn't unexpected," Tom Butz, an Army veteran of Vietnam who retired from the service in 1988, said in a telephone interview. "And, in fact, my brother and I have a bet on whether he's going to commute or pardon Snowden too."

Butz added, "I find it ironic that the Democrats themselves are fussing and screaming about the Russian hack [of the presidential election] and here you have an American citizen who gave all this stuff to WikiLeaks at the peril of our soldiers in the field and there doesn't seem to be any outcry … It's kind of speaking out of both sides of the mouth."

-- Brendan McGarry can be reached at brendan.mcgarry@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Brendan_McGarry.

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