Chelsea Manning freed from Kansas military prison
Pvt. Chelsea Manning, the transgender soldier convicted of giving classified government materials to WikiLeaks, was freed from a Kansas military prison early Wednesday morning after serving seven years of her 35-year sentence.
"After another anxious four months of waiting, the day has finally arrived. I am looking forward to so much! Whatever is ahead of me, is far more important than the past. I’m figuring things out right now–which is exciting, awkward, fun, and all new for me," Manning said in a statement released by the ACLU. She also tweeted a photo of two feet with the caption "First steps of freedom!!"
Manning left Fort Leavenworth at around 2 a.m. local time, the U.S. Army confirmed to Fox News. Spokeswoman Valerie Mongello did not give additional details, citing privacy restrictions.
Also Wednesday, her legal team said Manning would not use the health benefits to which she was entitled as an active-duty member of the Army -- meaning taxpayers would not foot the bill for gender reassignment.
"Because of the nature of her circumstances and the experience of confinement, she is very committed to living her life as free from the government as possible and taking care of her own health benefits and financial needs, separate and apart from the continued benefits available to her," attorney Chase Strangio said.
President Barack Obama granted Manning clemency in his final days in office in January.
"Thank you to everyone for ensuring her safe release and respecting her privacy as she starts to adjust to life outside of prison and rebuild her life following seven years of confinement," attorneys Nancy Hollander and Vincent Ward added.
Manning, who was known as Bradley Manning before transitioning in prison, was convicted in 2013 of 20 counts, including six Espionage Act violations, theft and computer fraud. She was acquitted of the most serious charge of aiding the enemy.
The Crescent, Oklahoma, native tweeted after being granted clemency that she planned to move to Maryland. Neither she nor her attorneys explained why, but she has an aunt who lives there.
Manning, a former intelligence analyst in Iraq, has acknowledged leaking the materials, which included battlefield video. She said she wanted to expose what she considered to be the U.S. military's disregard of the effects of war on civilians and that she released information that she didn't believe would harm the U.S.
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Critics said the leaks laid bare some of the nation's most-sensitive secrets and endangered information sources, prompting the State Department to help some of those people move to protect their safety. Several ambassadors were recalled, expelled or reassigned because of embarrassing disclosures.
Manning, who was arrested in 2010, filed a transgender rights lawsuit in prison and attempted suicide twice last year, according to her lawyers.
Obama's decision to commute Manning's sentence to about seven years, including the time she spent locked up before being convicted, drew strong criticism from members of Congress and others, with Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan calling the move "just outrageous."
In a statement last week -- her first public comments since Obama intervened -- Manning thanked that former president and said that letters of support from veterans and fellow transgender people inspired her "to work toward making life better for others."
"For the first time, I can see a future for myself as Chelsea," she said. "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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Her attorneys have said Manning was subjected to violence in prison and argued the military mistreated her by requiring her to serve her sentence in an all-male prison, restricting her physical and mental health care and not allowing her to keep a feminine haircut.
The Department of Defense has repeatedly declined to discuss Manning's treatment in prison.
An Army spokeswoman, Lt. Col. Jennifer Johnson, said Manning will be on "excess leave" while her court-martial conviction is under appellate review.
Fox News' Faith Mangan at Fort Leavenworth and The Associated Press contributed to this report.