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Chelsea Manning's sentence commuted by Obama

President Barack Obama shortens by 28 years the prison time given to Manning, who shared thousands of classified US documents with WikiLeaks.

A demonstration for Chelsea Manning in London.
Mike Kemp, In Pictures, via Getty Images

President Barack Obama has commuted the majority of Chelsea Manning's sentence, shortening the prison time of a US Army analyst who leaked thousands of files about US operations around the world.

Manning, a transgender woman formerly known as Bradley Manning, has been imprisoned since 2010 after being charged with giving 700,000 military files and communications to WikiLeaks. In 2013, Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison.

The commutation was listed midway through a release Tuesday from the White House that named more than 200 prisoners who received shortened sentences. Obama made no specific comment about his decision to release Manning 28 years early. In a press release, a White House spokesman said Obama has now granted more commutations than any other president in history.

A White House spokeswoman said Obama may address the commutation at a press briefing on Wednesday. Also listed among the people receiving commutations and pardons was James Cartwright, a retired four-star Marine general who pleaded guilty in October to lying to federal investigators reported to be probing leaks to journalists about the US government's involvement in the use of Stuxnet, a computer virus that targeted machines in an Iranian nuclear enrichment facility.

On Friday, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said at a press briefing that the Obama administration views Manning very differently from another person who leaked classified information -- Edward Snowden. Snowden, the former NSA contractor who leaked documents about the surveillance programs of the US and its allies to journalists in 2013, remains in Russia to avoid standing trial on charges of espionage and theft.

"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."

Manning's case was seen by many as a proxy for the US government's attempts to curb WikiLeaks and Julian Assange, its controversial founder. Rumors circulated earlier this week that Manning was on Obama's commutation shortlist. Snowden, who is active on Twitter from Russia, and WikiLeaks, which said it would send Assange to the US in exchange for Manning's release, expressed their support for a pardon.

A statement posted on Twitter from an unverified account identified as that of Assange's lawyer said Assange was glad to hear of the commutation and that Manning never should have been charged. "In order for democracy and the rule of law to thrive, the government should immediately end its war on whistleblowers and publishers, such as Wikileaks and myself," the statement reads.

The lawyer, Melinda Taylor, told CBS News that Assange would keep his word and surrender if Manning was released.

The commutation calls for Manning to be freed May 17 of this year, rather than that same day in 2045. Manning is being held at a maximum security military prison for men at the Fort Leavenworth Army installation in Kansas. The Department of Defense didn't respond to a request for comment on the commutation of Manning's sentence.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, a Republican from Wisconsin, said in a statement that Obama was setting a "dangerous precedent" by shortening Manning's sentence. "Chelsea Manning's treachery put American lives at risk and exposed some of our nation's most sensitive secrets," Ryan said in the statement.

Manning leaked hundreds of thousands of classified military documents and diplomatic cables, including video of a 2007 airstrike in Iraq that killed Iraqi civillians and two Reuters journalists.

First published Jan. 17, 2:15 p.m. PT.
Updated at 3:15 p.m., 4:06 p.m., 5:00 p.m. and 6:10 p.m. PT: Added more information about the announcement, background on Chelsea Manning, a statement from Julian Assange, a statement from Rep. Paul Ryan and information on James Cartwright.

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