The dean of Harvard University’s Kennedy School, Douglas Elmendorf, invited war crimes whistleblower and LGBTQ+ campaigner Chelsea Manning to be a visiting fellow. But the very next day, after pressure from a former and a current CIA director, the offer was rescinded. And this decision raises very serious questions about the independence of academia, especially in the age of Trump and ‘fake news’.
In 2013, Manning was convicted of violating America’s Espionage Act – along with other offences – and sentenced to 35 years in prison. But in January 2017, after a series of global campaigns, US President Barack Obama commuted her sentence. And four months later, she was released.
Only one day after the invitation to Manning was announced, former CIA acting director Michael Morell resigned from his own visiting fellowship at the Kennedy School in protest:
[Morell] has steadfastly refused to admit that the C.I.A. engaged in torture, even in the face of the Senate’s damning torture report released in 2014. When asked about the agency’s decision to conduct forced “rectal feeding” on a detainee, he refused to answer whether that amounted to torture. Mr. Morell has also been an outspoken cheerleader for indiscriminate C.I.A. drone strikes that have killed at least hundreds of civilians.
Dean Elmendorf subsequently clarified that, while the invitation to Manning to serve as visiting fellow had been withdrawn, the offer for her to speak at a forum was still open.
When Elmendorf rang Manning to tell her that the invitation to serve as a visiting fellow was withdrawn, Manning hung up mid-conversation. Her reaction on Twitter was to the point:
— Chelsea E. Manning (@xychelsea) September 15, 2017
What do they have against Manning?
Manning was responsible for leaking information about some of the most infamous war crimes that the US committed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
She was the source of a video showing a US army Apache helicopter opening fire on a group of men in Baghdad in 2007. The crew fired on civilians, including a Reuters photographer and his driver. They also fired on a van that stopped to rescue one of the wounded men. The driver was taking his small children to a tutoring session. He was killed, and his two children badly injured.
Many media outlets around the world directly benefited from Manning’s leaks, first published by WikiLeaks. These included The Guardian, The New York Times, Der Spiegel, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, and the BBC. The Guardian also published the ten main war crimes that Manning revealed.
A multi-award winner
Manning is widely recognised for her contribution to humanitarian causes. And she is the recipient of several awards. These include The Guardian’s Person of the Year and the prestigious Sean MacBride Peace Prize (though Manning made it clear she is not a pacifist).
Nobel Peace Prize laureates Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Adolfo Pérez Esquivel and Mairead Corrigan-Maguire also spoke out in support of her when appealing for a pardon or commuting of her sentence. And Corrigan-Maguire nominated Manning for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Several celebrities and journalists also backed Manning, including: Maggie Gyllenhaal, Roger Waters, Oliver Stone, Daniel Ellsberg, Alice Walker, Angela Davis, Moby, Molly Crabapple, Russell Brand, Chris Hedges, and Michael Ratner. Other prominent people who voiced support for Manning included Prof Noam Chomsky, author and social commentator Ralph Nader, and journalists Glenn Greenwald, John Pilger and Michael Moore.
Around 100 prominent figures, meanwhile, also signed a statement in support of Edward Snowden, WikiLeaks, Manning, and other whistleblowers in 2014.
Since her release from prison, Manning has been a relentless campaigner for human rights, including issues relating to LGBTQ+ rights and refugees.
— Chelsea E. Manning (@xychelsea) September 5, 2017
Far from being a “traitor”, Manning has shone a light on some of the many crimes committed during the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. Her statement to the court after she was found guilty says it all:
When I chose to disclose classified information, I did so out of a love for my country and a sense of duty to others.
If you deny my request for a pardon, I will serve my time knowing that sometimes you have to pay a heavy price to live in a free society. I will gladly pay that price if it means we could have [a] country that is truly conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all women and men are created equal.
For a university to bow to pressure in the way that Harvard apparently has is an insult to all of us.
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Featured image via Pixabay