In its most recent list of visiting fellows, Harvard University included famed WikiLeaks whistleblower Chelsea Manning. In 2013, Manning, a former Army private, was sentenced to 35 years in a military prison under the Espionage Act for releasing more than 700,000 documents exposing U.S. war crimes in Iraq.
Under intense pressure from an impassioned national security community and CIA Director Mike Pompeo, Harvard Kennedy School of Government Dean Douglas Elmendorf rescinded Manning's fellowship. Manning is still invited to participate in a forum as planned, but she has lost her designation as a fellow.
The result is not a compromise but cowardice and errant judgment on the part of both Elmendorf and Harvard.
Harvard’s greatest vulnerability on this issue is its hypocrisy with regard to whom it honors with fellowships. The cohort of fellows Manning was struck from includes Sean Spicer, Corey Lewandowski, Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski.
Spicer, who brought to the public phrases like "Holocaust centers" and "the largest audience to witness an inauguration," earned his fellowship with six months of propagandizing for a president who has sympathized with white nationalists.
Lewandowski, whose résumé includes working for said president’s campaign and contributing to conservative news networks, only acquired fame after groping a female Breitbart reporter and grabbing a protester by the collar at a campaign rally.
Brzezinski's tenure featured endless criminality. He pressured Carter to arm the Afghani Mujahadeen, a precursor of al-Qaeda, to lure the Soviet Union into Afghanistan. The Carter administration was also responsible for backing the Indonesian army’s genocide in East Timor.
Another figure adored by Harvard is Henry Kissinger. A frequent guest at the Kennedy School, Kissinger’s legacy includes many of late-20th century’s great atrocities. Yet he remains welcome at prestigious institutions like Harvard.
Should anyone claim that documents leaked by Manning endangered United States service members, they should note that Kissinger’s deliberative undermining of Vietnam peace talks in 1968 prolonged the war and caused the death of 21,000 U.S. soldiers and an untold number of Vietnamese, Cambodians and Laotians.
The Editorial Board draws attention to the pasts of these Harvard-decorated public figures not to say that the university should cut ties with anyone who causes controversy. Instead, we are illustrating the injustice of Manning’s rejection.
Elmendorf's decision aims more at appeasing those in positions of power rather than making better consideration of “the extent to which a person’s conduct fulfills the values of public service.”
Manning’s actions allowed the mask to slip off the true face of our country at war, and even played a part in influencing the mass demonstrations against autocrats backed by the U.S. during the Arab Spring.
Manning’s opponents argue that her collaboration with WikiLeaks put American lives at risk. However, a 2011 Justice Department report determined "with high confidence that disclosure of the Iraq data set will have no direct personal impact on current and former U.S. leadership in Iraq."
Whatever it is that Harvard wishes to associate with the title “Visiting Fellow,” whether it be honor as the public assumes or simply the opportunity to speak as Elmendorf argues, we feel that Manning is no less deserving of the title than any others upon whom it has been bestowed.