Obama cuts short WikiLeaks source Chelsea Manning's sentence

Obama cuts short WikiLeaks source Chelsea Manning's sentence
In a surprise move, the outgoing US President Barack Obama has commuted the 35-year sentence of Chelsea Manning, a transgender soldier who was convicted of stealing and disseminating 750,000 pages of sensitive diplomatic documents and videos to whistle-blower WikiLeaks. The 29-year-old American military analyst, born Bradley Manning, will be freed on May 17 instead of her scheduled 2045 release, the White House announced.

She was sentenced to 35 years in 2013 for her role in leaking diplomatic cables to the anti-secrecy group. The leak was one of the largest breaches of classified material in US history. While commuting the sentence, President Obama overruled his Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter's objections and immediately touched off a controversy in the closing days of the Obama administration, US media reported.

A former intelligence official described being "shocked" to learn of Obama's decision, adding that the "entire intelligence community is deflated by this inexplicable use of executive power." Manning has been lodged in prison after being convicted in August 2013. She also attempted suicide twice last year.

According to the White House, Manning's offences included one specification of wrongful and wanton publication to the internet intelligence belonging to the US, five specifications of stealing, purloining or knowingly converting US government records. Manning also passed on sensitive messages between US diplomats, intelligence assessments of Guantanamo detainees being held without trial and military records from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The disclosures were considered an embarrassment to the US, prompting the Obama administration to crack down on government leaks. The New York Times said the commutation also relieved the Department of Defence of the difficult responsibility of her incarceration as she pushes for treatment for her gender dysphoria, including sex reassignment surgery, that the military has no experience of providing.

Earlier in the day, the White House ruled out a similar commutation to Edward Snowden, who is currently on a political asylum in Russia. "Mr Snowden should return to the US and face the serious crimes that with which he's been charged. He will of course be afforded the kind of due process that's available to every American citizen who's going through the criminal justice process," White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said.

"But the crimes that he's accused of committing are serious. We believe that he should return to the US and face them rather than seeking refuge in the arms of an adversary of the US that has their own strategic interests in disseminating information in a harmful way," he said.

While responding to a question about Manning, Earnest said, "However, Chelsea Manning is somebody who went through the military criminal justice process, was exposed to due process, was found guilty, was sentenced for her crimes, and she acknowledged wrongdoing".

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