President Barack Obama said on Wednesday that former intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning had served a tough prison term and his decision to commute her 35-year sentence to about seven years served would not signal leniency toward leakers of U.S. government secrets.
Obama told his final news conference as president that he felt it made sense to commute Manning’s sentence because she went to trial and took responsibility for her crime.
Obama on Tuesday commuted the 35-year sentenced given to the former Army intelligence analyst for leaking more than 700,000 classified and military documents to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks. The website’s founder, Julian Assange, had recently said he would agree to U.S. extradition if Obama granted clemency to Manning.
The outgoing President said at the news conference that WikiLeaks and Assange did not factor into his decision, and that he examined Manning’s case and concluded that commuting her sentence was “entirely appropriate.”
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The decision to commute Manning’s sentence was criticized by Republicans.
“This is just outrageous,” House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan said in a statement Tuesday. Ryan, a Republican, said the decision was a “dangerous precedent” for those who leak materials about national security.
“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 is more than six years into her 35-year sentence. She is set to be released from prison in May.
— With files from the Associated Press.