September 15, 2017 at 12:01 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Amid criticism, Harvard withdraws fellowship for Chelsea Manning

Chelsea Manning, gay news, Washington Blade

Chelsea Manning (Photo courtesy Instagram)

Faced with intense criticism, the Harvard Kennedy School of Government has rescinded its fellowship to Chelsea Manning, a transgender former Army intelligence officer who was served seven years in jail for leaking classified information.

Douglas Elmendorf, dean of Harvard Kennedy School, said in a statement Friday the institution is “withdrawing the invitation to her to serve as a Visiting Fellow,” calling the initial decision to grant her that decision a “mistake” for which he takes responsibility.

“I still think that having her speak in the Forum and talk with students is consistent with our longstanding approach, which puts great emphasis on the value of hearing from a diverse collection of people,” Elmendorf said. “But I see more clearly now that many people view a Visiting Fellow title as an honorific, so we should weigh that consideration when offering invitations.”

Manning’s invitation is withdrawn after Michael Morell, a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, resigned as a senior fellow over the hiring of Manning, citing her record as a “convicted felon and leaker of classified information.” Current CIA director Mike Pompeo, who was scheduled to speak at the school Thursday, cancelled the event as result of the Harvard’s offer to Manning.

Manning, named Wednesday as a visiting fellow to the Harvard Institute of Politics, which is part of the Kennedy School, has been a controversial figure.

Supporters say a video of a Baghdad airstrike she made public exposed war crimes the United States committed during the Iraq war, but opponents point to a subsequent dump of 251,287 State Department cables as evidence she was indiscriminately leaking information and jeopardized the lives and work of U.S. intelligence analysts.

Until May, Manning was incarcerated at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas as she served out a sentence of 35 years in prison for leaking classified documents and diplomatic cables to Wikileaks. Manning was able to get out of prison early after serving seven years as a result of clemency from former President Obama.

Elmendorf said the invitation to Manning consisted solely of spending a day at the school to meet with students and give remarks at a forum. The audience would have opportunity, Elmendorf said, to ask hard questions and challenge what she has said and done.

On that basis, we also named Chelsea Manning a Visiting Fellow,” Elmendorf said. “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.”

In the future, Elmendorf said Harvard should weigh for each potential visitor what members of the Kennedy School community could learn from that person against “the extent to which that person’s conduct fulfills the values of public service to which we aspire.”

“I apologize to her and to the many concerned people from whom I have heard today for not recognizing upfront the full implications of our original invitation,” Elmendorf concludes. “This decision now is not intended as a compromise between competing interest groups but as the correct way for the Kennedy School to emphasize its longstanding approach to visiting speakers while recognizing that the title of Visiting Fellow implies a certain recognition.”

Manning responded on Twitter by saying she’s “honored,” claiming to be the first transgender women disinvited by Harvard.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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