Dear Director Edward Steinfeld:
On Sept. 15, Dean Douglas Elmendorf of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government rescinded his invitation to Chelsea Manning to be a Visiting Fellow. Harvard’s initial offer to Manning prompted the public foot-stomping of former CIA Deputy Director Mike Morrell and current CIA Director Mike Pompeo, the latter of whom labeled the whistleblower a “traitor” to her country. We are deeply disappointed that an institution like Harvard, ostensibly dedicated to principles of political justice and free expression, would avoid bestowing any “perceived honor” on Manning, who is widely lauded for both her exposure of potential war crimes and for her courage in the face of cruelty and torture. With this recent action, Harvard has transparently embraced and amplified the interests of government officials who seek to marginalize those who expose their actions to public scrutiny. We believe Manning deserves to be honored for her dedication to “serving the community, the nation and the world by discovering, communicating and preserving knowledge and understanding in a spirit of free inquiry...” These, after all, are the opening words of Brown University’s mission statement. Brown War Watch and the undersigned ask that the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs join us in our commitment to the University’s mission and invite Manning to Brown as a visiting fellow or in some other official capacity, where she can receive the honor and appreciation she deserves.
On Aug. 21, 2013, Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison after she exposed potential war crimes committed by the U.S. military. Included among these crimes were the wanton killing of over a dozen Iraqi men, including two Reuters journalists, the use of bombing raids to conceal the extrajudicial execution of Iraqi civilians and the torture and baseless detainment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. We believe empowering and defending whistleblowers like Manning is critical for maintaining accountable institutions, and for holding governments to the standards of the people they govern.
The specific reasons behind Harvard’s decision to rescind Manning’s invitation are widely disputed. McClatchy, the Associated Press and former Defense Secretary Robert Gates have all emphasized that the material released by Manning never posed a security threat to any U.S. government personnel. Instead, the primary effects of her leaks were to invigorate public scrutiny of military action and to help kindle the Arab uprisings of the early 2010s, as argued by New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller. Manning’s actions are real-world examples of a principle laid out in President Christina Paxson’s P’19 strategic plan, “Building on Distinction,” namely, to “support scholarship and public discourse on institutions and ideas that promote social justice.”
During her seven-year incarceration, Manning faced “cruel and inhumane” treatment, according to a United Nations special rapporteur on torture. Manning was subjected to constant surveillance, stripped naked in humiliating public displays and often kept in extended isolation, driving her to attempt suicide more than once. According to Amnesty International, Manning’s treatment constituted a “breach (of) the (United States’) obligations under international standards and treaties.” Despite the inhumane conditions of her confinement, Manning made the decision to come out as transgender and demand the medical and psychological treatment she deserved. She is therefore not just a symbol of political justice, but also a major figure in the struggle for LGBTQ+ rights.
We request that the Watson Institute continue the University’s commitment to justice, human rights and free expression by inviting Chelsea Manning to Brown University as a visiting fellow or in some other official capacity. Bestowing this distinction upon Manning 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.
Matthew Ricci GS, acting co-president, Brown War Watch
Babak Hemmatian Borujeni GS, acting co-president, Brown War Watch
Matthew Ricci GS can be reached at Matthew_Ricci_1@brown.edu and Babak Hemmatian Borujeni GS can be reached at Babak_Hemmatian@brown.edu. They are writing on behalf of Brown War Watch. Please send responses to this opinion to firstname.lastname@example.org and other op-eds to email@example.com.