Amid President Barack Obama’s last-minute batch of pardons and commutations was Chelsea Manning, who is serving a 35-year sentence for leaking classified government records to WikiLeaks.
The president commuted Manning’s sentence days before leaving office and the same week as President-elect Donald Trump’s planned inauguration. Manning is scheduled to be freed on May 17.
Manning was convicted in 2013 of charges that included espionage and theft for her role in publishing a trove of classified Army documents to the website WikiLeaks.
Shortly after her sentencing, Manning came out as a woman and announced she wanted hormone therapy to help with her transition. That hormone therapy was approved in February 2015 following a lawsuit that claimed the Army was not providing adequate medical care for her gender dysphoria.
In April 2016, her psychologist recommended she receive gender confirmation surgery. In September, one week after Manning went on a hunger strike to demand the surgery, the U.S. Army approved the treatment. Only one person to date has received state-funded gender confirmation surgery while in prison.
Manning formally petitioned Obama in November to commute her sentence to the more than six years she already served in confinement.
“I am not asking for a pardon of my conviction,” she wrote in a letter. “I understand that the various collateral consequences of the court-martial conviction will stay on my record forever.”
“The sole relief I am asking for is to be released from military prison after serving six years of confinement as a person who did not intend to harm the interests of the United States or harm any service members,” she added.
Today’s announcement is a win for the American Civil Liberties Union and LGBTQ groups that have lobbied the president for years to commute Manning’s sentence.
Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said in a statement that the decision “exemplifies the values President Obama has demonstrated throughout his presidency. He has been a staunch advocate for the civil rights and human dignity of all people, including transgender people.”
In a statement following today’s announcement, House Speaker Paul Ryan said Manning’s commutation was “outrageous.”
“Chelsea Manning’s treachery put American lives at risk and exposed some of our nation’s most sensitive secrets,” Ryan said. “President Obama now leaves in place a dangerous precedent that those who compromise our national security won’t be held accountable for their crimes,” he added.