Chelsea Manning to be released early by Barack Obama

US army whistleblower will leave prison in May, after seven years behind bars for passing confidential documents to WikiLeaks

(Image credit: AP2013)

President Barack Obama has commuted the majority of whistleblower Chelsea Manning's prison sentence just three days before he leaves office.

It is, the New York Times says, "a remarkable final step for a president whose administration carried out an unprecedented criminal crackdown on leaks of government secrets".

Manning, a former US Army soldier, was sentenced to 35 years in 2013 after giving WikiLeaks more than 700,000 classified documents, videos, diplomatic cables and battlefield accounts. She will leave military prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, on 17 May, seven years after being arrested.

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The reprieve comes after Manning, who is transgender, twice attempted suicide last year at the male military prison where she is being held.

She also went on a hunger strike last year, which was only called off once the military agreed to give her gender dysphoria treatment.

Margaret Huang, executive director of Amnesty International USA, welcomed the President's decision.

She said: "President Obama was right to commute her sentence, but it is long overdue.

"It is unconscionable that she languished in prison for years while those allegedly implicated by the information she revealed still haven't been brought to justice."

However, several high-profile Republicans have condemned the sentence reduction. Former presidential candidate John McCain called it a "grave mistake" that will "encourage further acts of espionage and undermine military discipline".

House Speaker Paul Ryan said it was "just outrageous" as Manning's "treachery put American lives at risk and exposed some of our nation's most sensitive secrets".

Questions are also being raised over whether WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will honour a pledge made last week that he would agree to extradition to the US, should Manning be granted clemency.

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Assange tweeted in praise of the move, but made no mention of his pledge. However, a member of his legal team told the Associated Press: "Everything that he has said, he's standing by."

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