By Karen Dillon
LEAVENWORTH, Kansas (Reuters) - Chelsea Manning walked out of a U.S. military prison on Wednesday, seven years after being arrested for passing secrets to WikiLeaks in the largest breach of classified information in U.S. history.
Manning, 29, was released from the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, at about 2 a.m., according to a brief statement released by the U.S. Army.
The former military intelligence analyst, once known as Private First Class Bradley Manning, is likely to become a transgender advocate following her release, said Chase Strangio, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer who has represented her.
Manning was convicted of providing more than 700,000 documents, videos, diplomatic cables and battlefield accounts to WikiLeaks, an international organization that publishes such information from anonymous sources.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, a target of criminal investigations in Sweden and the United States, has promised to accept extradition if Manning was freed. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has said Assange's arrest was a priority.
Manning said in 2014 that she chose to disclose the classified information to expose truths about the civil war in Iraq "out of a love for my country."
Before he left office, president Barack Obama commuted the final 28 years of Manning's 35-year sentence. The decision angered national security experts who say Manning put U.S. lives at risk, but it won praise from transgender advocates who have embraced her transition to a female gender identity.
Manning announced her gender transition while the U.S. Army kept her in the men's prison. Her lawyer said she twice tried to commit suicide and faced long stretches of solitary confinement as well as denial of healthcare.
Last year, the U.S. Defense Department lifted a long-standing ban against transgender men and women serving openly in the military.
Although transgender people still complain of widespread discrimination in education, employment and medical care, awareness of the issue has exploded since Manning went to jail. Transgender celebrities such as Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox have become part of the mainstream.
In a statement to ABC News, Manning said she appreciated the support she had received from people all over the world.
"As I rebuild my life, I remind myself not to relive the past," the statement said. "The past will always affect me, and I will keep that in mind while remembering that how it played out is only my starting point - not my final destination."
WikiLeaks began revealing secrets in 2007 and then burst onto the wider public consciousness three years later with a series of releases, including material gathered by Manning during her stint as an intelligence analyst in Baghdad.
Among the material from her was a 2007 gunsight video of a U.S. Apache helicopter firing at suspected insurgents in Iraq, killing a dozen people, including two Reuters news staffers.
More recently, WikiLeaks published Democratic National Committee emails in the weeks leading up to the Nov. 8 U.S. presidential election. U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded the email accounts were hacked by Russian intelligence as part of a campaign by Moscow to influence the election.
On April 13, Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo called WikiLeaks a "hostile intelligence service."
Assange has been Ecuador's London embassy since 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden for the investigation of allegations, which he denies, that he committed rape there in 2010. He has said he fears Sweden would extradite him to the United States, where there is an open criminal investigation into the activities of WikiLeaks.
(Additional reporting by Daniel Trotta and Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Lisa Von Ahn)