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Former US Army intelligence officer due to be released today after serving seven years of a 35-year sentence

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Wednesday, May 17, 2017 – 9:15am

Chelsea Manning is to be released from prison today, four months after her 35-year sentence was commuted by then US president Barack Obama.

The former US Army intelligence analyst was convicted of espionage after admitting to illegally leaking hundreds of thousands of classified document in 2010.

What did Chelsea Manning do?

Manning released more than 700,000 confidential military and diplomatic documents while serving in Iraq in 2010, when she was known as Bradley Manning. At the time it was the biggest leak in US government history.

The majority of the files were published on WikiLeaks – making founder Julian Assange a household name – and detailed US military involvement in Iraq and across the Middle East. Many of them contradicted official reports, especially in relation to civilian casualties, and their release has been credited with directly contributing to the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011.

In a column for the New York Times, Manning wrote that her decision stemmed from love of her country and a “sense of duty to others”.

How long has she been in jail?

Manning was arrested in 2010 and sentenced to 35 years at Fort Leavenworth prison in Kansas for six violations of the Espionage Act, including theft and computer fraud. She was acquitted of the most serious charge of aiding the enemy, which could have left her facing the death penalty.

In 2014, with help from the American Civil Liberties Union, Manning sued the Department of Defense, claiming it was refusing to give her medical treatment for gender dysphoria.

She tried to commit suicide on at least two occasions and went on hunger strike before being granted hormone therapy, a sign, she said, that the military was “moving forward” with her request for gender reassignment surgery.

Why is she being released early?

Under pressure from freedom of information groups and an online petition with more than 115,000 signatures, Obama commuted Manning’s sentence in one of his final acts as president, a decision “which was met with fierce opposition from lawmakers and service members alike”, says the Army Times.

Her fragile mental state is also believed to have informed the decision.

Obama stressed he was not issuing a pardon, but clemency because Manning had gone to trial, taken responsibility for her crime and received a “very disproportionate” sentence.

His successor Donald Trump, however, has labelled Manning a “disgraceful traitor” who “should never have been released from prison”.

What will she do now?

Manning will remain on active duty after her release while her court martial conviction is under appeal. However, she will not be paid, although she will be eligible for medical care and military discounts.

In a statement last week, Manning said: “For the first time, I can see a future for myself as Chelsea. 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.”

Time magazine says Manning has “expressed hope of one day being able to help others like herself outside of prison” after becoming an advocate for free speech, transparency and LGBT rights while in prison.

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