WASHINGTON/MOSCOW • US President Barack Obama has shortened the prison term of Chelsea Manning, the former military intelligence analyst responsible for a 2010 leak of classified materials to anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, the biggest such breach in US history.
A White House official said there was no link between Manning's commutation and renewed US government concern over WikiLeaks' actions during last year's presidential election, or a promise by founder Julian Assange to accept extradition if Manning was freed.
Manning has been the focus of a worldwide debate on government secrecy after she provided more than 700,000 documents, videos, diplomatic cables and battlefield accounts to WikiLeaks. She was sentenced to 35 years in prison.
Mr Obama, in one of his final acts before leaving office, reduced her sentence to seven years, angering some Republicans. House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan said in a statement that it was a "dangerous precedent" for those who leak materials about national security. "Chelsea Manning's treachery put American lives at risk and exposed some of our nation's most sensitive secrets," he said.
Manning was working as an intelligence analyst in Baghdad in 2010 when she gave WikiLeaks a trove of diplomatic cables and battlefield accounts that included a 2007 gunsight video of a US Apache helicopter firing at suspected insurgents in Iraq, killing a dozen people including two Reuters news staff.
Manning, formerly known as US Army Private First Class Bradley Manning, was born male but revealed after being convicted of espionage that she identifies as a woman. The White House said her sentence will end on May 17.
Manning, who twice tried to kill herself last year, accepted responsibility for leaking the material - a factor that fed into Mr Obama's decision, a White House official told reporters. The official said Mr Obama's decision was rooted in Manning's term being longer than sentences given to others who had committed comparable crimes.
Mr Obama, who leaves office tomorrow and is scheduled to give his final news conference, is expected to discuss his decision then.
Mr Assange has been holed up at Ecuador's embassy in London since 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden for the investigation of allegations, which he denies, that he committed rape there in 2010. He has said he fears Sweden would extradite him to the US, where there is an open criminal investigation into the activities of WikiLeaks.
Meanwhile, the Russian authorities have extended US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden's Russian residency permit by two years. The former National Security Agency contractor shook the American intelligence establishment to its core in 2013 with a series of devastating leaks on mass surveillance in the US and around the world.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE