Chelsea Manning in a photo from 2010 (pic: Chelsea Manning/Wikipedia)
Chelsea Manning in a photo from 2010 (pic: Chelsea Manning/Wikipedia)

As one of his last acts in office, US President Barack Obama has commuted Chelsea Manning's sentence. Manning, who leaked thousands of classified military documents to Wikileaks, will now serve just a fraction of her 35 year sentence be released on 17 May 2017.

The decision was heralded last week by news that Manning was on the president's shortlist for release.

Imprisoned at Fort Leavenworth in the US state of Kansas, Manning has served almost seven years of a 35 year sentence, the longest ever handed down. She will be released on 17 May. Her incarceration was marred by two reported suicide attempts and 11 months of solitary confinement which a United Nations rapporteur deemed to be “at a minimum cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in violation of article 16 of the convention against torture.” Manning also began transitioning into a woman while incarcerated.

Sarah Harrison, acting director of The Courage Foundation told SC Media UK, "Obama may well have just saved Chelsea Manning's life. Freeing her is clearly and unambiguously the right thing to do, and not just for the obvious humanitarian reasons, though those are absolutely compelling.”

Harrison added that, though the commutation of Manning's sentence was welcomed, “Chelsea's conviction under the Espionage Act and 35-year sentence set a terrible precedent that is left entirely intact by this commutation. Who knows what Donald Trump will do with this precedent, and these powers, that Obama has left him?”

The President will officially leave office at 12 noon on 20 January, making this one of his final acts before President elect Donald Trump assumes the presidency.

Manning, then called Bradley, was imprisoned for her leaking of  masses of classified files to Wikileaks while serving as an intelligence analyst for the US Army. The information that Manning passed to Julian Assange's organisation ranged from diplomatic cables, files from Guantanamo bay and logs from the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. 

Each revelation divulged sensitive internal information from the US and its allies, showing abuses by coalition forces and exposing the inner workings of American foreign relations.

Perhaps the most famous piece to be given to Wikileaks, however, is known as the Collateral Murder Video. The video showed Reuters journalists and Iraqi civilians being caught, and killed in the fighting between US forces and Iraqi insurgents in 2007. 

Many of the files were later published online and made searchable with the help of news organisations Der Spiegel, The Guardian and The New York Times.

He was eventually caught when a confidante, Adrian Lamo, reported him to Army Counterintelligence, and Manning was arrested in May 2010. Manning was convicted of multiple charges and sentenced to 35 years in a maximum security prison.