Ex-wrestler Jesse Ventura vows to pardon Snowden, Manning as president

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Former wrestler Jesse Ventura, who is considering a long-shot independent run for the White House, said he would immediately clear the intelligence leakers Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden if elected.

Mr Ventura, who served as governor of Minnesota from 1999 to 2003 and is an avid proponent of conspiracy theories, said it was "wonderful" for individuals within government to expose abuses.

"If I became president of the United States, Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning would immediately be pardoned," Mr Ventura told AFP. When "the government is committing crimes and doing wrongdoing, thank God we have people with courage to blow the whistle," he said.

Manning, a former US Army intelligence agent, was sentenced to 35 years in prison for the leaks of 700,000 documents, including war logs and diplomatic cables to the WikiLeaks website. (Manning was prosecuted as a man with the first name Bradley but later asked to be recognised as a woman named Chelsea.) Snowden, a former contractor for the National Security Agency, disclosed details of widespread US government surveillance of individuals' communications and of foreign governments. The US citizen was charged with espionage and has been granted asylum in Russia.

Mr Ventura also pledged to close down all US military bases overseas, including the naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where the United States has kept terrorism suspects indefinitely in a controversial policy started by former president George W. Bush.

President Barack Obama pledged to shut down the prison at the base - colloquially known as Gitmo - within a year of taking office in 2009 but has been stymied by opposition in Congress.

"The only difference I can tell between him and George Bush is the colour of their skin. I don't think their international policies are any different whatsoever," Mr Ventura said of Mr Obama.

Ventura said he would work with "my friend" Fidel Castro, Cuba's ailing revolutionary leader, whom he met in Havana while serving as Minnesota governor.

"I would tell him, give me one year and you can have Gitmo back. It's your land. What are we doing there?" he said.

Mr Ventura, known in the ring as "The Body," pulled off a stunning upset in 1998 against gubernatorial candidates of the two major parties. He did not seek a second term.