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Harvard withdraws fellowship offer to Chelsea Manning

Former US Army soldier and CIA whistle-blower Chelsea Manning. Source: Twitter

The Institute of Politics at Harvard University announced Wednesday that Chelsea Manning would be one of its visiting fellows, but less than two days later, the school withdrew the invitation after a public backlash to the controversial whistle-blower.

The dean of Harvard’s Kennedy School posted a statement on the institute’s web site explaining the decision, which follows a pair of high-profile cancellations as well as public criticism, particularly from the conservative right.

“We invited Chelsea Manning because the Kennedy School’s longstanding approach to visiting speakers is to invite some people who have significantly influenced events in the world even if they do not share our values and even if their actions or words are abhorrent to some members of our community,” Douglas Elmendorf wrote in his statement.

“However, I now think that designating Chelsea Manning as a Visiting Fellow was a mistake, for which I accept responsibility … 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.”

A former US Army soldier, Manning served time in prison for leaking more than 700,000 classified documents to WikiLeaks. After serving seven of her 35-year sentence, she was released in May from a US military prison in Kansas after then President Barack Obama commuted her sentence saying it was “disproportionate” compared to those of other whistle-blowers.

Manning’s invitation to act as a visiting fellow was met with public dismay and led to the resignation of a Harvard senior fellow and prompted CIA director Mike Pompeo to cancel his appearance at the university.

Pompeo, who in the past has called Manning an “American traitor”, cited military and intelligence officials who believe that the leaks endangered the lives of CIA employees. He was due to speak at the university on Thursday night, but didn’t show up.

Earlier Thursday, Mike Morell, former deputy director and acting director of the CIA, sent a resignation letter to Harvard saying he could not be part of an organisation that “honors a convicted felon and leaker of classified information.”

Morell, who was a non-resident senior fellow called Manning’s decision to leak classified information “disgraceful.”

“Senior leaders in our military have stated publicly that the leaks by Ms. Manning put the lives of US soldiers at risk,” Morell said.

“I have an obligation in my conscience – and I believe to the country – to stand against any efforts to justify leaks of sensitive national security information.”

Harvard also announced last week that it had invited former White House press secretary Sean Spicer and former Donald Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski to be visiting fellows.

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