U.S. President Barack Obama on Tuesday slashed the sentence of transgender army private Chelsea Manning, who had been sentenced to 35 years behind bars for handing classified U.S. documents to WikiLeaks amid reports he is planning more commutations in his final days in office.
Obama pardoned 64 people and commuted the sentences of 209 others — including 29-year-old Manning, who will now be released in May — in one of his final acts as president.
He became the president to have granted more commutations than any other.
Manning, a former U.S. military intelligence analyst, was convicted in August 2013 of espionage and other offenses, 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.
Then Bradley Manning pleaded guilty and was sentenced by military court martial. She has since been held in an all-male prison, at times in solitary confinement, and has attempted to commit suicide twice.
Activists had argued her sentence is excessive and point to the psychological frailty of the transgender soldier.
“This move could quite literally save Chelsea’s life,” said Chase Strangio of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Obama did not grant a pardon to another prominent leaker, former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, whom the U.S. has been unable to extradite from Russia. 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.
He was not on Obama’s list of commutations or pardons, but did tweet his thanks.
“Let it be said here in earnest, with good heart: Thanks, Obama.”
WikiLeaks — which has been linked to last year’s election hacks — claimed “victory” and thanked those who campaigned on Manning’s behalf.
“Your courage & determination made the impossible possible,” the group tweeted, citing founder Julian Assange.
But there was no suggestion Assange — who is holed up in the Ecuadoran embassy in London — would make good on a promise to be extradited to the United States if Manning was freed.
Among those who received commutations was Puerto Rican nationalist Oscar Lopez-Rivera, who has been in prison for more than three decades on terrorism charges.
Obama also pardoned James Cartwright, a former four-star general who lied to the FBI about his discussions with journalists about Iran’s nuclear program.
Another round of commutations is expected on Thursday, officials suggested.
Many will look to see whether the new list includes Bowe Bergdahl, a U.S. Army sergeant held captive for five years by the Taliban before his release in a prisoner swap. He is due to be court-martialed for desertion.
Other names omitted Tuesday were General David Petraeus — who pleaded guilty to improperly sharing classified information — and Obama’s ally Hillary Clinton.
There had been wild speculation that Obama may choose to preemptively pardon her, forestalling any Donald Trump-led prosecution over her handling of email as secretary of state.
Presidents can theoretically pardon people before they are even sentenced.
Trump takes office on Friday.