Obama shows clemency to Manning, intelligence analyst behind leaks

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - In one of his final acts before leaving office, President Barack Obama on Tuesday commuted the prison sentence of Chelsea Manning, the former U.S. military intelligence analyst behind the biggest breach of classified materials in U.S. history, the White House said.

Just last Thursday, anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, the recipient of materials from Manning, tweeted that its founder Julian Assange would agree to extradition if Manning was released.

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 - a leak for which she was sentenced to serve 35 years in prison.

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.

Manning, who is held at the Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, military prison, accepted responsibility for leaking the material. She has said she was confronting gender dysphoria at the time of the leaks while deployed in Iraq. Her sentence will now expire on May 17, the White House said.

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President Obama commutes Chelsea Manning's sentence
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President Obama commutes Chelsea Manning's sentence
U.S. soldier Chelsea Manning, who was born male but identifies as a woman, imprisoned for handing over classified files to pro-transparency site WikiLeaks, is pictured dressed as a woman in this 2010 photograph obtained on August 14, 2013.Courtesy U.S. Army/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY
People hold signs calling for the release of imprisoned wikileaks whistleblower Chelsea Manning while marching in a gay pride parade in San Francisco, California June 28, 2015. Manning has appealed to an Army court to overturn her court-martial conviction, a court filing released on Thursday said. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage/File Photo
A placard showing Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden photos is seen during the Easter March for Peace in Roemerberg, Frankfurt, Germany, 06 April 2015. Some 2000 demonstrators gathered before the City Hall to advocate for peace, under the motto 'Stop war and war propaganda - Solve conflicts peacefully'. Thousands have gathered to participate in over 80 events for peace during the Easter period in Germany. (Photo by Horacio Villalobos/Corbis via Getty Images)
ODEONSPLATZ, MUNICH, BAVARIA, GERMANY - 2015/10/10: Demonstrators gather to protest against surveillance especially by the NSA. Amnesty International demands Obama to hand over his peace Nobel Price to Chelsea manning. (Photo by Michael Trammer/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
U.S. Army Pfc. Bradley Manning is escorted out of a courthouse during his court martial at Fort Meade in Maryland, August, 20, 2013. Manning, 25, the soldier convicted of giving classified U.S. files to WikiLeaks, could face as up to 90 years in prison for giving more than 700,000 classified files, battlefield videos and diplomatic cables to the pro-transparency website. Prosecutors asked for 60 years, while the defense asked the judge not to rob him of his youth. REUTERS/Jose Luis Magana (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CRIME LAW MILITARY)
Demonstration for Chelsea Manning in London, England, United Kingdom. Chelsea Manning (born Bradley Edward Manning) is a United States Army soldier who was convicted by court-martial in July 2013 of violations of the Espionage Act and other offenses, after disclosing to WikiLeaks nearly three-quarters of a million classified or unclassified but sensitive military and diplomatic documents. Manning was sentenced in August 2013 to 35 years imprisonment, with the possibility of parole in the eighth year, and to be dishonorably discharged from the Army. Manning is a trans woman who, in a statement the day after sentencing, said she had felt female since childhood, wanted to be known as Chelsea, and desired to begin hormone replacement therapy. From early life and through much of her Army life, Manning was known as Bradley; she was diagnosed with gender identity disorder while in the Army. (photo by Mike Kemp/In Pictures via Getty Images)
Demonstration for Chelsea Manning in London, England, United Kingdom. Chelsea Manning (born Bradley Edward Manning) is a United States Army soldier who was convicted by court-martial in July 2013 of violations of the Espionage Act and other offenses, after disclosing to WikiLeaks nearly three-quarters of a million classified or unclassified but sensitive military and diplomatic documents. Manning was sentenced in August 2013 to 35 years imprisonment, with the possibility of parole in the eighth year, and to be dishonorably discharged from the Army. Manning is a trans woman who, in a statement the day after sentencing, said she had felt female since childhood, wanted to be known as Chelsea, and desired to begin hormone replacement therapy. From early life and through much of her Army life, Manning was known as Bradley; she was diagnosed with gender identity disorder while in the Army. (photo by Mike Kemp/In Pictures via Getty Images)
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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.

Her attorney had argued her sentence exceeded international legal norms, and she has twice attempted suicide.

"If Obama grants Manning clemency Assange will agree to US extradition despite clear unconstitutionality of DoJ case," the WikiLeaks tweet of Jan. 12 said.

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 in 2010.

Assange, who is Australian, says he fears further extradition from Sweden to the United States, where there is an open criminal investigation into the activities of WikiLeaks.

It 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 from the Democratic National Committee and the accounts of leading Democrats as part of a campaign to influence the election.

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 information.

Manning was among 209 commutations granted by Obama on Tuesday and Cartwright was among 64 pardons.

Manning's clemency was criticized by Republican Senator Tom Cotton, who said Manning endangered troops, intelligence officers, diplomats and allies with the leaks.

"We ought not treat a traitor like a martyr," Cotton said.

But 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 USA.

(Additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle and Phillip Stewart; Editing by Sandra Maler and Grant McCool)

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