Op-eds, Opinions

Hood ’17.5: Don’t invite Chelsea Manning to Brown

Op-Ed Contributor
Friday, January 26, 2018

Matthew Ricci GS and Babak Hemmatian Borujeni GS published an op-ed in The Herald Wednesday asking that Brown University and the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs offer Chelsea Manning — a former Army intelligence analyst responsible for the 2010 leak of government documents — a Visiting Fellow position. She had previously been offered a position at Harvard, but the offer was rescinded as pressure from Washington and outrage from the public mounted. The two authors argue that offering Manning a position would “be an opportunity for Brown to demonstrate on the national stage how a university can responsibly channel its substantial influence to fight for global justice and the rights of LGBTQ+ people.” Not only are Ricci and Hemmatian Borujeni grossly misrepresenting Manning’s story, but if Brown “bestowed this distinction” on Manning, the University would undermine the entire military by showing that dishonorable actions can be rewarded. There is no greater insult to Brown’s veterans and veterans across America than offering a position to a traitor who was dishonorably discharged and found guilty of 19 of the 21 charges brought against her — including espionage and the release of classified information.

Manning was convicted in 2013 for releasing over 700,000 sensitive military and government documents. This leak has been described as “the largest leak of classified documents in US history,” according to the Washington Post. Not only did Manning knowingly disobey the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the legal fabric that holds the military together, but the documents released to WikiLeaks unveiled the names of many military and civilian operatives working with the United States. Manning defended her actions by claiming she had revealed war crimes committed by the United States; however, she also compromised the safety of numerous personnel, some of whom had to be evacuated at the last minute because they were identified in the documents. Put differently, Manning recklessly and without thought of consequences handed over classified information to unauthorized sources and put countless lives at risk.

In 2011, former president Barack Obama claimed that “‘she broke the law’ and deserved punishment.” (Why Obama commuted Manning’s 35-year sentence, of which she served seven at a military prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, is beyond me.)

Ricci and Hemmatian Borujeni, however, offer a different interpretation of Manning’s actions. They argue that Manning is a hero of social justice for whistleblowing. While whistleblowers should be protected under certain circumstances, the costs of the information’s release and the damage that is caused should always weigh in the balance. In this case, Manning neglected to redact the names of the Afghan operatives assisting American forces in the documents before releasing the information to WikiLeaks and risking their lives. Ricci and Hemmatian Borujeni also claim that Manning is a champion of the LGBTQ+ community, as she underwent gender reassignment surgery while incarcerated. Though the difficulties and challenges of being trans are very real, and Manning has likely experienced these prejudices, these facts do not exonerate her from having undermined the American armed forces.

Indeed, Ricci and Hemmatian Borujeni’s plea rests on some obscure notion of moral superiority — that, by offering Manning a position at the University, Brown will demonstrate to the world its moral strength and vast understanding. This is not only an erroneous idea, but also injurious to the University’s reputation.

If the University wishes to bring a veteran who advocates for the LGBTQ+ community to campus, then I suggest Kristen Beck. Beck, a former Navy Seal, served multiple tours overseas and separated honorably. Upon separation, Beck underwent gender reassignment surgery. She is a real hero of “global justice and the rights of (the) LGBTQ+” community. Chelsea Manning is a criminal. If Brown offers Manning a position, then one thing will become frighteningly clear: Brown cares more about appearances than substance. It is more important to look like the institution fights for justice, even if its new appointee violated military law, undercut the military’s operations and put many people in harm’s way.

I hope Brown and its administration very carefully consider the ramifications of their decisions if they offer her a position. Furthermore, I hope Ricci and Hemmatian Borujeni reconsider their perspective. In selecting a new Visiting Fellow, Brown ought to find someone who has actually fought for justice and endured the hardships and tribulations of trans life without selling out her fellow soldiers.

Tristan Hood ’17.5 is a student veteran and can be reached at tristan_hood@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and other op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.