Why Are People Talking About Chelsea Manning And Harvard?

Chelsea Manning Sean Spicer

Harvard University on Friday withdrew a fellowship invitation to Chelsea Manning, the transgender US Army soldier who was convicted of leaking classified data, after two leaders in the US intelligence community distanced themselves from the school.

In her tweetstorm over the decision, Manning mentions the Central Intelligence Agency as the main culprit - presumably a reference to former deputy Central Intelligence Agency director Michael Morell, who resigned as a Harvard fellow in protest over the school granting the "felon and leaker" a title.

Ms Manning - who served seven years in a military prison after sharing USA government documents with Wikileaks before her sentence was commuted by President Barack Obama - was initially named as a visiting fellow at the Institute of Politics at Harvard Kennedy School on Wednesday.

The dean's decision came hours after CIA Director Mike Pompeo withdrew from a planned appearance on Thursday at the Kennedy School and chastised the institution for calling attention to Manning.

In his statement, Elmendorf said the title of Visiting Fellow implies honor, and that the school must "weigh that consideration" when inviting fellows.

Along with Ms. Manning, Harvard invited former White House press secretary Sean Spicer, former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and MSNBC hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski to serve as visiting fellows when they made their announcement on Wednesday. Manning was sentenced to 35 years in military prison for his crimes but subsequently had his sentence commuted by former President Barack Obama in the waning days of his presidency.

Elmendorf added that Manning is still invited to spend a day at the Kennedy School and speak in the John F. Kennedy Jr.

Meanwhile, Manning took to Twitter to share her thoughts on the controversial decision.

After Harvard University offered then quickly rescinded a visiting fellow invitation to Chelsea Manning, the former solider and convicted leaker decried the "military/police/intel state" over the decision. "Because controversy pervades many questions in politics and public policy, some speakers are controversial", he said. Visiting fellows meet with students and give talks at the school. Harvard says Manning will be among fellows who will visit the campus for a "limited" number of events meant to spark campus discussion.

In their letters, Morell and Pompeo said their decisions had nothing to do with her identity as a transgender person, but instead her conviction.

Some members of the USA intelligence community and diplomatic corps decried the damage done when the documents Manning leaked went public - but anti-war and government transparency advocates celebrated her as a hero for exposing private deliberations that upended public claims by the U.S. government about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. "I have an obligation to my conscience - and I believe to the country - to stand up against any efforts to justify leaks of sensitive national security information", Morell wrote, according to the Post.

Harvard Kennedy School Dean Douglas Elmendorf released a statement yesterday reversing course on Manning, saying he now recognized it was "a mistake".

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