Caught in a political and public relations firestorm, Harvard revoked the fellowship it offered to Chelsea Manning just two days after offering her the role.
The move came after former CIA Director Michael Morell publicly resigned his post as a Harvard senior fellow at the Kennedy School and issued a blistering a public statement arguing that Harvard’s “decision will assist Ms. Manning in her long-standing effort to legitimize the criminal path that she took to prominence.” Current CIA Director Mike Pompeo cited Manning’s appointment when he abruptly withdrew from a planned speaking engagement at Harvard and blasted her as an “American traitor.”
The pressure tactics outraged Manning’s supporters, who see her as a hero who exposed America’s misdeeds in the war on terror, but were enough to persuade Harvard to reverse course.
“I now think that designating Chelsea Manning as a Visiting Fellow was a mistake,” Douglas Elmendorf, the dean of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, wrote in a statement this morning. “I see more clearly now that many people view a Visiting Fellow title as an honorific … [and] we did not intend to honor her in any way or to endorse any of her words or deeds, as we do not honor or endorse any Fellow.”
According to Elmendorf, Harvard offers the fellowship to people who “significantly influenced events in the world even if they do not share our values and even if their actions or words are abhorrent to some members of our community.” Manning is still welcome to speak with students at the school and perform the duties of a fellow — just without the title.
Manning bashed Harvard’s move on Twitter, writing that “this is what a military/police/intel state looks like … the @cia determines what is and is not taught at @harvard.” WikiLeaks Director Julian Assange also tweeted about Pompeo: “Head of the CIA gets triggered by Harvard giving Chelsea Manning a platform virtue signals in cry-bully complaint and no-platforms. #ManUp.”
It was only on Wednesday that Harvard named Manning a visiting fellow along with three others, including former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer.
But prominent intelligence officials were immediately outraged by the announcement. In his letter to Elmendorf, Morell said senior American officials “have stated publicly that the leaks by Ms. Manning put the lives of US soldiers at risk” and said the appointment may inadvertently “encourage others to leak classified information as well.”
Shortly after Morell’s decision, Pompeo — a Harvard Law School alumnus — canceled a speech and said Harvard’s actions “implicitly tell its students that you too can be a fellow at Harvard and a felon under United States law.
“I believe it is shameful for Harvard to place its stamp of approval upon her treasonous actions,” he added.
Both Morell and Pompeo wrote that their decision had nothing to do with Manning’s status as a transgender woman.
The controversy over Manning is still alive and well
Manning gained notoriety in 2010 when she stole classified intelligence and handed it over to a then-obscure anti-secrecy group known as WikiLeaks, which started publishing the documents and videos on its site and proceeded to make almost all of them public.
The documents she obtained showed the US didn’t investigate “hundreds” of reports of abuse, torture, rape, and even murder by Iraqi police; that Yemen’s president secretly allowed the United States to conduct counterterrorism operations inside his country even as he railed against America in public; and that a 2007 US Army helicopter attack killed 12 people, including two Reuters journalists — an incident WikiLeaks called “Collateral Murder.”
In July 2013, a military judge convicted Manning on 17 of 22 charges including “violations of the Espionage Act, for copying and disseminating classified military field reports, State Department cables, and assessments of detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.” President Barack Obama reduced her sentence on January 17 by nearly 30 years, and was released on May 17.
While Harvard quickly reversed its decision to honor Manning, it’s still surprising that an institution known for hosting some of the world’s brightest minds didn’t foresee the backlash it would get.
And it shows that the controversy over Manning — whether she is a hero for exposing military secrets or a villain for betraying her country — is still alive and well.