Whistleblower Chelsea Manning walked out of Fort Leavenworth military prison at around 3 a.m. Wednesday after seven years behind bars.
Manning’s 35-year sentence for leaking military intelligence documents was commuted in January by President Barack Obama, who said the Army private accepted responsibility, expressed remorse and served time.
Manning, 29, will remain entitled to military medical care, along with commissary privileges an unpaid active-duty soldier in the U.S. Army on “excess leave” status and the former intelligence analyst is appealing her conviction
She plans to move to Maryland, where her aunt lives.
At the age of 22 while known as Bradley Manning and stationed in Iraq, she leaked about 750,000 military files and State Department cables including battlefield video to WikiLeaks in order to expose the U.S. military’s disregard of the effects of war on civilians.
Manning had access to top-secret information as a private first class deployed on foreign soil from November 2009 to May 2010. During that time, she downloaded some 400,000 classified files concerning the Iraq War, more than 90,000 from the war in Afghanistan, a quarter-million diplomatic emails, classified videos of U.S. airstrikes and classified files from the prison in Guantanamo Bay.
One of those was a classified US military video depicting the indiscriminate slaying of over a dozen people in the Iraqi suburb of New Baghdad — including two Reuters news staff.
The video, shot from an Apache helicopter gun-sight, clearly shows the slaying of a wounded Reuters employee and his rescuers. Two young children involved in the rescue were also seriously wounded.
Nobody was prosecuted for killing the journalists or wounding those children.
Manning was court-martialed and sentenced in 2013 to 35 years in prison although she didn’t believe that releasing the information would harm the U.S., since no document was classified higher than secret.
Critics argued that her disclosures endangered information sources and exposed some of the nation’s most-sensitive secrets, prompting the State Department to move people to protect them.
Manning, a native of Crescent, Oklahoma, was convicted in a military court martial of 20 counts, including six Espionage Act violations, theft and computer fraud but acquitted of the most serious charge of aiding the enemy. The day after sentencing, Manning came out as a transgender woman.
“For the first time, I can see a future for myself as Chelsea,” Manning said in a statement after Obama granted clemency. “I can imagine surviving and living as the person who I am and can finally be in the outside world. Freedom used to be something that I dreamed of but never allowed myself to fully imagine.”
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