Hypocrites at Harvard should be ashamed after withdrawing Chelsea Manning’s fellowship invitation

Danielle Ryan
Danielle Ryan is an Irish freelance journalist. Having lived and worked in the US, Germany and Russia, she is currently based in Budapest, Hungary. Her work has been featured by Salon, The Nation, Rethinking Russia, Russia Direct, teleSUR, The BRICS Post and others. Follow her on Twitter @DanielleRyanJ, check out her Facebook page, or visit her website: danielle-ryan.com
Hypocrites at Harvard should be ashamed after withdrawing Chelsea Manning’s fellowship invitation
Less than two days after announcing that former US Army soldier and whistleblower Chelsea Manning would join the Harvard Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics as a visiting fellow, the university rescinded the offer.

The reason should anger anyone who claims to be a fan of free speech and free thought.

Shortly after the initial offer to Manning was made public, former deputy director and acting director of the CIA, Mike Morell, resigned his senior fellowship in protest, claiming he could not be part of an organization that “honors a convicted felon and leaker of classified information.”

Not long after, current CIA Director Mike Pompeo cancelled a speaking appearance at the university minutes after it was due to begin. His excuse was the same. In a letter posted on Twitter, Pompeo announced that his “conscience and duty” would not permit him to betray the trust of his CIA colleagues by “appearing to support” the decision to hire Manning as a fellow.

The next day, the dean of the Harvard Kennedy School, Douglas W. Elmendorf, suddenly saw the light and announced that inviting Manning to be a visiting fellow was a “mistake” for which he takes responsibility. This was after rambling on for three paragraphs about how Harvard welcomes a “wide range of views” and never shies away from controversy.

Elmendorf took great pains to assure people that in no way whatsoever had Harvard planned to honor Manning in any capacity. He simply hadn’t realized that “many people” regarded the invitation as “honorific,” and promised to be more careful about selecting fellows in the future.

Now, let’s just be really clear. This has nothing do with Elmendorf being concerned about random people and their opinions about what ‘visiting fellow’ means and whether it implies any kind of honor. If he was looking for consensus on who deserves the implied honor, there would be no fellows left to choose from — and all current offers would have to be withdrawn immediately.
No, what happened here is simple. Harvard caved to CIA pressure because institutions like Harvard are not truly the beacons of free thought and independence they claim to be. They court the rich and powerful and will do their utmost to protect them.

This incident demonstrates it clearly. Harvard, and frankly, most universities in its league, would rather teach their students to bow down to the establishment than to challenge authority and the status quo.

Chelsea Manning exposed war crimes and spent years in prison for it, suffering torture and abuse at the hands of the government. Morell and Pompeo, on the other hand, have both headed arguably the most criminal organization in the United States, which over the decades has done far more to put the lives of Americans at risk than Chelsea Manning’s whistleblowing ever did.

I could think of more polite ways to say this, but there’s really no reason to be polite. Morell and Pompeo are despicable, vomit-inducing liars of the highest order. The truth is a threat to people like them — and people like Manning, who have the integrity to speak it, scare them.

Yet, Harvard is more than happy to honor CIA directors by showering them in fellowships and speaking engagements.

Who is Morell to be faux-outraged at Manning’s actions, anyway? Morell is a man who publicly advocated killing Russians and Syrians “covertly” to make them “pay a price” for not toeing Washington’s line in Syria’s war.

Morell was also working at the CIA at a time when the US government was committing the exact war crimes Manning risked her life to reveal. What kind of sick world do we live in, when he is the one Harvard chooses to honor?

The irony of withdrawing an offer from a person who revealed war crimes, essentially at the request of people who were and are complicit in perpetrating them, is unfathomable.

Now, since Manning’s offer was withdrawn for the implication that it was “honorific,” we have to assume that, aside from the likes of Morell and Pompeo, Harvard is still happy to be honoring people like Sean Spicer and Corey Lewandowski, since neither has had their recent offers from the university withdrawn.

Spicer lied for a living at the White House press podium until he resigned because the only bigger liar than him in the building was his boss. As for Lewandowski? Well, he’s just a hot-headed political operative who was accused of assaulting a reporter and being vulgar and sexually suggestive with others.

But, by all means Harvard, honor away. Just don’t assume that anyone believes you have any interest in a free exchange of ideas.

The United States bills itself as a country of freedom and tolerance; free press, free speech, free thought. Increasingly, however, college campuses across the country — institutions billing themselves as beacons of independence and equality — are turning into zones of political intolerance.

Students from across the political spectrum are increasingly of the opinion that if their college invites a speaker with whom they disagree, they should protest or even riot, until the invitation is revoked. Instead of getting on with their lives, students at UC Berkeley in California put on masks and hurled Molotov cocktails, set fires, and broke windows to protest a planned appearance of right-wing commentator Milo Yiannopoulos.

What happened to freedom of speech, America? What happened to “I hate what you say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it”?

Harvard has shown itself for what it is: an institution that will happily stand up and defend those who peddle CIA propaganda, but run from a person who showed immense bravery and courage to expose the crimes of government. What a lesson for Elmendorf to teach his students.

Harvard’s decision is cowardly and shameful, but don’t hold your breath waiting for an apology. Harvard will continue to churn out graduates that help prop up the establishment and maintain exactly the status quo they just proved they feel perfectly comfortable with. But at least they’re not pretending anymore.

In rescinding the offer to Manning, Elmendorf went to great lengths to prove that Harvard was never planning to honor Manning. But an honor is exactly what she deserves — and the cowards at Harvard should be ashamed.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.