Wiki leaker Chelsea Manning walks free after Obama pardon

18 May 2017


Transgender US army private Chelsea Manning, jailed for one of the largest leaks of classified documents in US history, was released from a military prison on Wednesday after serving seven years of her original 35-year prison sentence.

Formerly Bradley Manning, now Chelsea ManningThe 29-year-old walked free from a maximum-security facility at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas thanks to a commutation of her sentence by former President Barack Obama before he left office.

Manning "has been released from the United States Disciplinary Barracks" at Fort Leavenworth, US Army spokeswoman Cynthia Smith said in a brief statement.

Pvt Manning will remain an active-duty, unpaid soldier, eligible for health care and other benefits, the army had said on Tuesday before her release.

Manning entered prison as a man named Bradley Manning, and changed his name, identified as a woman and received hormone treatment while in prison. Her sentence was commuted in the final days of the Obama administration, a move that infuriated some in the military and President Donald Trump.

While Manning's court-martial conviction remains under appeal, she will remain a private in the army, said Dave Foster, an army spokesman. As an active duty soldier, Manning will continue to receive health care and have access to commissaries and military exchanges, but she will not be paid.

 ''Pvt. Manning is statutorily entitled to medical care while on excess leave in an active duty status, pending final appellate review,'' Foster said.

The Army refused to disclose the other terms of Manning's release, six years before her eligibility for parole, citing privacy concerns. She had been sentenced for releasing hundreds of thousands of secret documents to WikiLeaks. Manning appeared at court martial in the uniform of an enlisted man.

Manning, who served as an intelligence official in Iraq, was arrested in July 2010 over the release of a huge trove of more than 700,000 classified military and diplomatic documents through WikiLeaks (See: WikiLeaks expose: US, Pak and Taliban scamper for cover).

Suicide bids
Manning attempted suicide twice last year alone. Her supporters said they feared she would not have been able to survive the long sentence. Now, she can complete her transition as a free, openly transgender woman.

"Two more days until the freedom of civilian life," Manning tweeted Monday. "Now hunting for private #healthcare like millions of Americans."

Manning went on a hunger strike during her detention to denounce the disciplinary measures she was subjected to - including stints in solitary confinement.

"For the first time, I can see a future for myself as Chelsea. I can imagine surviving and living as the person who I am and can finally be in the outside world," she wrote last week.

The Oklahoma native had a difficult childhood. After her parents' divorce, Manning moved with her mother to Wales, where she repressed her sexuality and was mocked for her effeminate ways.

The military was keen on keeping her release low-key. No press conference is planned and media massed at the military installation caught no glimpse of Manning as she was released.

Manning, of whom few photographs are publicly available, could find refuge at an aunt's home in the Washington region, according to AFP.

Virtually unknown at the time of her arrest, Manning today is a well-known figure around the world.

'Traitor' to Trump, heroic to others
Labelled a traitor by President Donald Trump, she has gained the support of celebrities and is seen by many Americans as a courageous rights activist who was handed an unfair sentence for revealing civilian deaths caused by US bombings in Iraq and Afghanistan.

She wasn't able to flee abroad like Edward Snowden, who in 2013 released documents showing that the National Security Agency was sweeping up US citizens' communications data.

Ahead of Manning's release, a group of musicians released a compilation album with all proceeds to go to the former soldier as she starts a new life.

"Hugs for Chelsea," a digital album available for a $25 donation, features tracks by artists known for their left-wing activism including Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello and Sonic Youth co-founder Thurston Moore.

Manning has also become an icon for transgender activists.

Manning was able to start hormonal treatment in prison to begin transitioning toward her female identity. This transition is certain to speed up outside a prison environment Manning said denied her "right to exist."

While Manning's sentence was commuted, her conviction remains intact. Manning, who will turn 30 in December, has appealed.

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