In the waning hours of his presidency, Barack Obama used his clemency power to commute the prison sentence of Chelsea Manning, a former U.S. Army analyst who was convicted of espionage in July 2013 by a military court after she turned over a massive cache of defense and diplomatic records, then the largest single leak in U.S. history, to the organization WikiLeaks. Among the materials released by Manning was a video recording showing Iraqi civilians being killed in a U.S. helicopter attack in Baghdad in 2007.
According to a White House press release, along with abridging Manning’s 35-year sentence to end in May of this year, President Obama granted 208 other commutations and 64 pardons Tuesday, thus closing a second-term scramble to reduce the federal prison population and establishing him as the most clement president in recent history. Obama has issued the most combined commutations and pardons of any president since Harry Truman, and more than Reagan, Clinton, and both Bushes combined.
Obama’s decision comes after a sustained campaign to free Manning, who has tried to commit suicide twice. Manning has been living in austere conditions as a transgender woman in a male military prison, and has faced extended periods of solitary confinement deemed by a UN special rapporteur on torture as tantamount to torture. Obama has been under growing pressure from human rights activists to commute the sentence of Manning and her fellow leaker Edward Snowden, who disclosed information on a number of surveillance programs in 2013, on the grounds that their actions served the public interest. The administration warmed to clemency for Manning, but not for Snowden, who fled the country to Russia and has not been tried in a U.S. court. Republicans, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, immediately condemned Obama’s decision to commute Manning’s sentence, saying her actions “put American lives at risk.”