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UPDATED: September 15, 2017 at 4:04 a.m.
Facing backlash from high-ranking current and former CIA officials, the Dean of the Kennedy School of Government withdrew an invitation for Chelsea Manning to serve as a visiting fellow at the Institute of Politics in a late-night reversal Friday.
“I now think that designating Chelsea Manning as a Visiting Fellow was a mistake, for which I accept responsibility,” Kennedy School Dean Douglas W. Elmendorf wrote in a statement posted to the school’s website shortly after midnight.
The school withdrew the invitation to Manning—a transgender activist and former U.S. Army soldier who was imprisoned after disclosing over 700,000 classified government documents— after CIA Director Mike Pompeo cancelled his scheduled appearance at the school Thursday.
“Ms. Manning betrayed her country and was found guilty of 17 serious crimes for leaking classified information to Wikileaks,” Pompeo wrote in a letter to Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, director of Intelligence and Defense Projects at Harvard Kennedy School on Thursday. “Indeed, Ms. Manning stands against everything the brave men and women I serve alongside stand for.”
Pompeo’s cancelled appearance came hours after Michael Morell, a former deputy director of the CIA, resigned from his Senior Fellowship at the Belfer Center at Harvard Kennedy School. In his resignation letter, Morell cited deep opposition to Manning’s actions, and wrote that “the Kennedy School’s decision will assist Ms. Manning in her long-standing effort to legitimize the criminal path that she took to prominence.”
After the twin denouncements, Elmendorf withdrew the invitation that had been issued on Wednesday.
“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,” Kennedy School Dean Douglas W. Elmendorf wrote.
After 3 a.m. Friday, Manning tweeted that she was "honored to be 1st disinvited trans woman visiting @harvard fellow."
"They chill marginalized voices under @cia pressure," she added.
Elmendorf added that Manning is still invited to spend a day at the Kennedy School and speak in the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum, where “the audience [will] have ample opportunity—as with all our speakers—to ask hard questions and challenge what she has said and done.”
“I think we should weigh, for each potential visitor, what members of the Kennedy School community could learn from that person’s visit against the extent to which that person’s conduct fulfills the values of public service to which we aspire,” Elmendorf wrote. “In retrospect, though, I think my assessment of that balance for Chelsea Manning was wrong.”
Pompeo and Morell’s actions were part of a broader backlash, both on campus and around the country, to Manning’s appointment.
Kent K. Haeffner ’18, President of the Harvard Republicans Club, called Manning a “traitor,” and said her hiring was “a shame.”
“It is a shame that the IOP has decided to give a platform to someone who is so diametrically opposed to the values of patriotism and public service that are embedded in its mission,” Haeffner wrote in a statement.
Others on campus defended Manning. Noah R. Wagner ’18, a member of the Harvard Trans Task Force, speaking in a personal capacity, praised the IOP for appointing Manning.
“Whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning are exactly the people that we need, shedding light on the atrocities and injustices for which the U.S. military is responsible, and for which there is rarely transparency or accountability. She’s also a personal hero of mine and a hero for many members of the trans community,” Wagner said.
—Staff writer Derek G. Xiao can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @derekgxiao.
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