By Chris Kenning
May 9 (Reuters) - A transgender soldier has issued her first statement since former President Barack Obama commuted her 35-year prison sentence for leaking intelligence, saying on Tuesday she wants to help others after she is released from prison next week.
Chelsea Manning has served nearly seven years in a military prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, after being convicted of leaking more than 700,000 classified documents, videos, diplomatic cables and battlefield accounts to anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks in 2010, the biggest such breach in U.S. history.
Her case became both the focus of debate over government secrecy and a rallying cause for civil liberties advocates, who saw the punishment as too severe and an attempt to chill whistleblowers from speaking up about government misdeeds.
"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," Manning said in a statement released by the American Civil Liberties Union.
"I hope to take the lessons that I have learned, the love that I have been given, and the hope that I have to work toward making life better for others," she added, giving thanks for her upcoming release.
Obama granted Manning clemency in January, saying she had taken responsibility for her crime and her sentence was disproportionate to those received by other leakers. Congressional Republicans criticized the commutation as a dangerous precedent.
Manning's clemency and appellate lawyers, Nancy Hollander and Vincent Ward, said in a statement on Tuesday the sentence was "far too long, too severe, too draconian."
Manning, formerly known as U.S. Army Private First Class Bradley Manning, was born male but revealed after being convicted of espionage that she identifies as a woman.
Manning has previously said she released the files in the interests of transparency and accountability.
She twice tried to kill herself and has struggled to cope as a transgender woman in the men's military prison. In her statement, Manning said her time in prison included periods of solitary confinement and struggles with restricted healthcare. (Reporting by Chris Kenning; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Chris Reese)
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