18/01/2017 20:01 GMT | Updated 18/01/2017 20:34 GMT

Barack Obama Defends Commuting Chelsea Manning’s Prison Sentence As 'Justice Served'

'A message has been sent,' outgoing US President says in final press conference.

Barack Obama has defended his decision to commute Chelsea Manning’s prison sentence, telling reporters in his final press conference as US President that “justice has been served”.

Obama argued the US Army Private, who will be free in May following her leaking to WikiLeaks, had served a “tough prison sentence” and that a “message has been sent” to those who disclose vital classified information.

Debate still rages about the impact and validity of Manning’s decision to release the documents, with some seeing her as a legitimate whistleblower, while others believing she is a traitor who put American lives at risk. 

Kevin Lamarque / Reuters
U.S. President Barack Obama gives his last briefing at the White House.

Republicans have criticised the decision, saying it sets a dangerous precedent for national security. The former Army intelligence analyst asked Obama to commute her 35-year sentence.

Obama said today she received a “very disproportionate” sentence relative to what other leakers had received, adding that he felt “very comfortable that justice has been served”.

He told reporters: 

“Let’s be clear, Chelsea Manning has served a tough prison sentence. The notion that the average person who was thinking of disclosing vital classified information would imagine it goes unpunished ... I don’t think would get that impression from the sentence Chelsea Manning has served. It has been my view that given she went to trial. That due process was carried out. That she took responsibility for her crime. That the sentence she receive was very disproportionate relative to what other leakers received. That she had served a significant amount of time. That it made sense to commute and not pardon her sentence.”

The former intelligence analyst was convicted in August 2013 of espionage and other offences for leaking more than 700,000 classified documents while working in Iraq.

Handout . / Reuters
Chelsea Manning pictured in 2010.

The commuted sentence will allow Manning to be freed on May 17 of this year.

The 29-year-old confessed to sending the secret military and diplomatic documents to the anti-secrecy organization.

Manning has also been on a hunger strike in a bid for gender reassignment surgery.

The army private formerly known as Bradley Manning began receiving hormone treatment for gender reassignment while in prison in 2015. She changed her legal name in April 2014.