Court-martialed Army soldier , had a 35-year sentence cut to a bit more than time already served after a 2013 conviction sent the transgender soldier to United States Disciplinary Barracks (USDB) at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas for violating the Espionage Act.

What she did

Now known as Pvt Chelsea manning, while serving in the US Army sent a massive number of classified documents to WikiLeaks. Her sentence has been commuted by President Obama.

Since her sentence was commuted, she will be released as soon as the paperwork and process of finding her a place to move to (perhaps a half-way house) and other normal procedures are completed.

It takes about 3 months to process any commutation order so when she finally leaves prison, she will have completed approximately seven years of her 35-year sentence.

Why commute?

One reason for the commutation is that Manning is now transgender, essentially a woman being kept in a men’s prison where she has attempted suicide multiple times. USDB is the Army's only Class III or maximum-security prison. It is possible that under the rules and regulations this is the only Army prison where an enlisted person serving more than 10 years for a national security-related crime can be kept. Another reason might be that although the embassy cables and other messages were very embarrassing to the government, there hasn’t been any claim that anyone was killed due to the release of the classified information.

What Bradley Manning did was not comparable to the much more damaging information exposed by Snowden.

Military authorities are very upset with this decision by President Obama in the last days of his term.

Commuting a sentence is a form of clemency which involves reducing the sentence but not restoring the person’s rights. Unlike a pardon which actually wipes out the original conviction, a commutation only reduces the sentence and doesn’t necessarily release the person from prison as it will with Manning.

Commuting a death sentence, for example, doesn’t reduce the time the person is sentenced to prison which would usually be life, it just stops the execution forever.

A president can pardon any crime against the United States except in cases of impeachment. There is no appeal to an act of clemency and it is important to note that there is no actual obligation for a president to explain the reasons he or she granted clemency.

A reprieve is another form of clemency but it only delays the start of a sentence - for example, a person might get a reprieve or delay if they are undergoing some serious medical treatment.

Why the turnaround?

This and the actual pardon of retired Marine General James E. Cartwright are only unusual because under President Obama there was a massive crackdown on leaks - his Justice Department having brought more such cases in eight years than all previous presidents combined.

This administration has made use of The Espionage Act either 8 or 10 times depending on exactly how the legal process is parsed but either one is by far the most serious action any President has taken to punish anyone who leaks information.

Julian Assange

It was reported that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange apparently sent a message to President Obama that he would surrender to the US for trial if Manning’s sentence was pardoned (as opposed to commuted). The US government hasn’t requested extradition of 45-year-old Mr Assange, who has been living in the basement of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London to keep from being extradited to Sweden for preliminary investigation in an underage sex-related case.

He has been trapped in the Embassy for years despite having not even being charged with any crime any place and having been granted political asylum in Ecuador - British police are preventing him from travelling to that country but he is technically in the country because he is in the embassy. The United Nations has ruled his imprisonment a human rights violation and demanded his release.