WASHINGTON (CN) – Three days before his term ends, President Barack Obama commuted the 35-year sentence of Wikileaks source Chelsea Manning on Tuesday. The former soldier is set to be released on May 17.
Manning, 29, has served six years for divulging state secrets as an Army intelligence analyst. The sentence of 35 years for the transgender former soldier is the most severe the courts have ever imposed for a leak conviction. With parole and time served, Manning might otherwise have remained in prison for another decade. She also faced indefinite solitary confinement after trying to kill herself behind bars over the summer.
Months after that attempt, the government announced that Manning would become the first prisoner in Army history to receive sex-reassignment surgery.
The American Civil Liberties Union and other groups have been urging the president for months to grant Manning clemency.
“We are so happy for our client,” the civil rights group said in a tweet.
Manning is among 209 commutations and pardons President Obama issued Tuesday, the last of his presidency.
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill were quick to criticize Obama’s move.
“When I was leading soldiers in Afghanistan, Private Manning was undermining us by leaking hundreds of thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks,” Sen. Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican, said in a statement Tuesday.
“I don’t understand why the president would feel special compassion for someone who endangered the lives of our troops, diplomats, intelligence officers, and allies,” Cotton added. “We ought not treat a traitor like a martyr.”
Among the hundreds of thousands of documents Manning transmitted to Wikileaks were Department of State cables, Iraq and Afghanistan battlefield reports, and Guantanamo Bay detainee profiles.
Perhaps the most prominent of the Manning’s leaks is the footage of an Apache helicopter shot of a Baghdad airstrike that killed two Reuters employees. WikiLeaks titled the video “Collateral Murder.”
Manning also exposed the civilian death toll of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and abuse of Iraqi detainees by Iraqi military officials.