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Obama commutes Chelsea Manning’s sentence before leaving office

Before leaving office, then-President Barack Obama commuted the majority of the prison sentence of Chelsea Manning, the Army intelligence analyst who was convicted of a 2010 leak that exposed sensitive American military and diplomatic information, while propelling WikiLeaks to international prominence.

Manning, a transgender woman who has spent seven years of her 35-year sentence in the men’s military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., had twice tried to commit suicide while in custody.

According to the terms announced by the White House on Jan. 17, Manning will be released on May 17. This stands in stark contrast to her previous scheduled release in 2045. A senior official for the Obama administration told the New York Times that the 120-day delay was “part of a standard transition period for commutations to time served, and was designed to allow for such steps as finding a place for Ms. Manning to live after her release.”

The sentence commutation also relieved the Defense Department of the responsibility of aiding Manning’s push for treatment for her gender dysphoria, including sex reassignment surgery, that the military has no experience providing.

Obama’s decision to commute the sentence was criticized by a number of prominent Republicans, including the chairmen of the House and Senate armed services committees, Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who called Manning’s leaks “espionage” and claimed they had put American troops and the country at risk. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) called the decision “outrageous.”

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

The decision to commute Manning’s sentence had some wondering if Edward Snowden, the former intelligence contractor who leaked thousands of top-secret files and is now living as a fugitive in Russia, might be pardoned before Obama left office. Obama White House spokesman Josh Earnest set those queries to bed.

“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,” Earnest said. “Mr. Snowden fled into the arms of an adversary and has sought refuge in a country that most recently made a concerted effort to undermine confidence in our democracy.”

Earnest also pointed out that while the materials Manning leaked were “damaging to national security,” the information Snowden released was “far more serious and far more dangerous.”

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