President Barack Obama largely commuted the 35-year prison sentence of Chelsea Manning, an Army private convicted in 2013 of taking secret diplomatic and military documents and disclosing them to WikiLeaks.
Obama also granted a full and complete pardon to Ret. Marine General James Cartwright for lying to the FBI in a probe of a leak of classified information about a covert U.S.-Israeli cyberattack on Iran’s nuclear program.
A former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who was known as Obama’s favorite general, Cartwright pleaded guilty in October and was sentenced last week to two years in prison.
In addition, Obama granted clemency to about 200 low-level drug offenders who were sentenced under harsh drug laws and would have received lighter sentences if convicted today. In all, the president commuted 209 individuals and pardoned another 64. He is expected to grant more drug commutations on Wednesday.
Manning will be set free in five months on May 17 this year instead of in 2045, under the terms of Obama’s commutation.
Manning, 29, has served nearly seven years in federal custody.
In an impassioned statement accompanying her petition for clemency, she accepted “full and complete responsibility” for her decision to disclose the material. She said she pleaded guilty without the benefit of a plea agreement because she believed the military justice system would understand her motivation for the leak and sentence her fairly.
“I was wrong,” wrote Manning, who is imprisoned at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas.
She said the 35-year penalty was “far more” than she imagined possible – “unreasonable, outrageous and out of line with what I had done.”
Her reason for passing the documents to WikiLeaks was to raise public awareness about issues she found concerning, including the impact of war on innocent civilians, her attorney, Vincent Ward, said in a letter accompanying Manning’s petition.
Ward said that Manning’s sentence exceeds even international legal norms. Obama, who he said has taken “admirable steps” to provide criminal offenders a second chance through clemency, “has the opportunity to right this wrong” by commuting Manning’s sentence to time served. That, he said, would give her “a first chance to live a real, meaningful life.”
Rep. John Faso (R-NY) called Manning’s commuted sentence “ill-advised” in a statement.
“In the waning days of President Obama’s tenure as our commander-in-chief, he has chosen to award freedom to Chelsea Manning, who leaked hundreds of thousands of sensitive military documents and diplomatic cables, putting our fighting forces on the ground as well as embedded allies at risk,” Faso said. “Manning broke the law and betrayed her country. With this ill-advised action, President Obama sets a dangerous precedent for our national security.”
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