WASHINGTON – Chelsea Manning, a transgender Army private who gave anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks a trove of classified documents, was released from military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. on Wednesday months after former President Barack Obama commuted her sentence.
Army spokesperson Lt. Col. Jennifer Johnson said Manning will remain on active duty, but on excess leave, while her she pursues an appeal of her court-martial conviction and 35-year prison sentence. Under this status she will not receive pay but is entitled to medical care at military facilities and other military privileges.
— Chelsea Manning (@xychelsea) May 17, 2017
Manning, formerly known as Private First Class Bradley Manning, began her transition to becoming a woman after entering prison. Manning spent about seven years in prison, with Obama shaving some 28-years from her sentence in January.
“She went to trial, that due process was carried out, that she took responsibility for her crime, that the sentence that she received was very disproportionate relative to what other leakers had received,” Obama said days later, defending his decision. “… I feel very comfortable that justice has been served.”
A fund set up by her supporters has raised more than $150,000 to cover her initial living expenses. According to the GoFundMe page, she will resettle in Maryland, where she is from.
Manning was a 22-year-old junior intelligence officer at a forward operating base in Iraq when she was arrested on May 27, 2010, for illegally copying U.S. military field reports from Iraq and Afghanistan, battlefield videos and diplomatic cables. She later admitted to uploading more than 700,000 documents and other materials to WikiLeaks. Much of the material was published in batches by WikiLeaks and traditional news organizations.
Manning said at the time that she had hoped to spark “worldwide discussion, debates and reforms” with the information, bringing to light what she saw as an unfair portrayal of the U.S. wars.
She revealed previously unknown killings of civilian bystanders in Iraq and Afghanistan, classified intelligence assessments of Guantanamo detainees, revelations that the U.S. failed to investigate hundreds of reports of abuse by Iraqi police and soldiers, and blunt diplomatic assessments of U.S. allies and adversaries.
Critics of Manning’s decision said that she had released information identifying military informants, potentially putting them at risk.
Manning was convicted by court martial in 2013, including on Espionage Act violations. She was later acquitted of the most serious charge against her, aiding the enemy. The military court had charged that in releasing the information to the public, adversaries also could learn from it.
Manning was sent to the Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. to serve out her sentence. She twice attempted suicide there, according to her attorneys, while struggling to adjust to life in the all-male prison.
“After another anxious four months of waiting, the day has finally arrived,” Manning said in a statement Wednesday carried by the ACLU, which contributed to her defense team. “I am looking forward to so much! Whatever is ahead of me is far more important than the past. I’m figuring things out right now — which is exciting, awkward, fun and all new for me.”
Manning’s release to Wikileaks put the anti-secrecy group in the public consciousness. Three years later, in 2013, government contractor Edward Snowden copied classified data without permission and released it to traditional news outlets, revealing the extent of the National Security Agency’s global surveillance programs. Snowden, who was charged with espionage and theft of government property, currently resides in Russia, where he was granted asylum.