Obama shortens sentence of Manning, who
gave secrets to WikiLeaks
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[January 18, 2017]
By Roberta Rampton and Ayesha Rascoe
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack
Obama on Tuesday shortened the prison sentence of Chelsea Manning, the
former U.S. military intelligence analyst who was responsible for a 2010
leak of classified materials to anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, the
biggest such breach in U.S. history.
A White House official said there was no connection between Manning's
commutation and renewed U.S. government concern about WikiLeaks' actions
during last year's presidential election, or a promise by founder Julian
Assange to accept extradition if Manning was freed.
Manning has been a focus of a worldwide debate on government secrecy
since she provided more than 700,000 documents, videos, diplomatic
cables and battlefield accounts to WikiLeaks - a leak for which she was
sentenced to serve 35 years in prison.
Obama, in one of his final acts before leaving office, reduced her
sentence to seven years, angering some Republicans.
"This is just outrageous," House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan
said in a statement. Ryan, a Republican, said the decision was a
"dangerous precedent" for those who leak materials about national
"Chelsea Manning's treachery put American lives at risk and exposed some
of our nation's most sensitive secrets," Ryan said.
Manning was working as an intelligence analyst in Baghdad in 2010 when
she gave WikiLeaks a trove of diplomatic cables and battlefield accounts
that included a 2007 gunsight video of a U.S. Apache helicopter firing
at suspected insurgents in Iraq, killing a dozen people including two
Reuters news staff.
Republican Senator Tom Cotton said the leak endangered troops,
intelligence officers, diplomats and allies.
"We ought not treat a traitor like a martyr," Cotton said.
Manning, formerly known as U.S. Army Private First Class Bradley
Manning, was born male but revealed after being convicted of espionage
that she identifies as a woman. The White House said her sentence would
end on May 17 this year.
Manning, who twice tried to kill herself last year and has struggled to
cope as a transgender woman in the Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, men's
military prison, accepted responsibility for leaking the material -- a
factor that fed into Obama's decision, a White House official told
reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The official said Obama's decision was rooted in Manning's sentence
being longer than sentences given to others who had committed comparable
crimes. Obama, who leaves office on Friday and is scheduled to give his
final news conference on Wednesday, is expected to discuss his decision
WikiLeaks also published emails in the weeks leading up to the Nov. 8
presidential election that U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded
that Russian intelligence agencies hacked the Democratic National
Committee and the accounts of leading Democrats, part of a campaign by
Moscow to influence the election.
But Obama's decision had nothing to do with the latest WikiLeaks
controversy, the White House official said.
"The president's decision to grant clemency and offer commutation to
Chelsea Manning was not influenced in any way by public comments from
Assange or the WikiLeaks organization," a White House official said on a
conference call with reporters.
Assange has been holed up at Ecuador's London embassy since 2012 to
avoid extradition to Sweden for the investigation of allegations, which
he denies, that he committed rape there in 2010. He has said he fears
Sweden would extradite him to the United States, where there is an open
criminal investigation into the activities of WikiLeaks.
WikiLeaks sent a tweet quoting Assange's attorney, Melinda Taylor,
saying he would abide by his promise to accept extradition if Manning
was freed. "Everything that he has said he's standing by," Taylor said,
according to the tweet.
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Chelsea Manning is pictured in this 2010 photograph obtained on
August 14, 2013.Courtesy U.S. Army/Handout via REUTERS
Civil rights groups praised the move, calling it overdue.
"Chelsea Manning exposed serious abuses, and as a result her own
human rights have been violated by the U.S. government for years,"
said Margaret Huang, executive director of Amnesty International
Obama also pardoned retired U.S. Marine Corps General James
Cartwright who pleaded guilty in October to making false statements
to the FBI during an investigation into leaks of classified
The aggressive prosecution of Cartwright, who last served as vice
chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, sent shockwaves through the
He lied during questioning by the FBI over a book written by a New
York Times reporter that exposed a malicious computer software
program known as "Stuxnet" designed to disrupt Iran's nuclear
program. Cartwright denied being the source of the leak.
Obama weighed Cartwright's service along with his motive when making
the decision, the White House official said, noting Cartwright had
not divulged material that the journalist was not already aware of,
and that his conversations were focused on preventing the
publication of material that could hurt national security.
"It's clear in this case ... that General Cartwright's motive was
different than most people who are facing charges of leaking
classified information to a journalist," the official said.
PUERTO RICAN MILITANT
Also on the pardon list: Oscar Lopez Rivera, who was sentenced in
1981 to 55 years in prison for his involvement with Puerto Rican
militant group FALN, which claimed responsibility for dozens of
bombings in the 1970s and 1980s.
Lopez Rivera -- who turned down a similar offer from President Bill
Clinton in 1999 -- was the last remaining member of FALN still in
"Mr. Lopez Rivera is now in his 70s. He has served 35 years, nearly
half of his life in prison," a White House official said. "The
president determined that was sufficient amount of time to serve,
although the president certainly believes that the crimes that were
committed were serious."
U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders campaigned for the release of Lopez
Rivera during his unsuccessful campaign against Hillary Clinton for
the Democratic presidential nomination.
Manning and Lopez Rivera were among 209 commutations granted by
Obama on Tuesday and Cartwright was among 64 pardons.
In total, Obama has commuted sentences for 1,385 federal prisoners
-- a total greater than that of the 12 previous presidents combined
-- and he is expected to announce more on Thursday, the White House
Most of the commutations were a part of Obama's effort to reduce the
number of people serving long sentences for non-violent drug
(Reporting by Roberta Rampton and Ayesha Rascoe; additional
reporting by Phillip Stewart, Patricia Zengerle and Dustin Volz;
Editing by Sandra Maler, Grant McCool and Lisa Shumaker)
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