What we can learn from the adventures of Chelsea Manning
Last year Chelsea Manning was in prison serving a 35 year sentence for releasing a lot of classified information to WikiLeaks. She had entered prison seven years before as Bradley Manning a male soldier. While in prison she transitioned to Chelsea Manning, a woman soldier.
Then Pres. Obama commuted her sentence. Not too long afterward Harvard University invited her to be a visitor at its Kennedy School where future diplomats and bureaucrats train to work in the US government. Every year the Kennedy School invites a number of notables to be available to talk to the schools students. The invitees this year included Manning. It also included Sean Spicer, until recently spokesperson for President Trump and a notorious liar. A third questionable appointment was Cory Lewandowski, one time campaign manager for President Trump, known for his disrespectful treatment of women journalists.
No one cared much about Spicer and Lewandowski. But the appointment of Manning created an uproar. The current head of the CIA protested loudly. One of the other appointees as visitors to the Kennedy school, Michael Morell, a former CIA manager resigned his appointment to the School.
Harvard folded and uninvited Chelsea Manning. The Dean who had first invited her professed that he was not aware that her appointment would be controversial. Where has he been all these years?
(Manning has since been invited to a prestigious book discussion on Nantucket. Having been uninvited by Harvard has made her a desirable person to invite to fancy events.)
There are some interesting lessons to be learned from this whole misadventure besides that you can be a dean at Harvard and be incompetent or untruthful.
Pompeo, the current head of the CIA, and the other former CIA manager protested against Manning's appointment on the grounds that Manning was "a traitor" and that releasing the information she did possibly endangered many lives. Present and past managers on the CIA stood up in protest against persons endangering human lives.
Impressive, isn't it?
Two days earlier in the newspaper carried a story that the CIA, which was currently waging drone warfare in the Mideast and elsewhere but was barred from using drone killings in Afghanistan, was urging the President to allow them to employ drone weapons also in the war zone. This story reminds us that the CIA is regulalrly killing people with drones. The targets of the drone attacks are presumably terrorists. Some drone attacks have been misdirected and killed large wedding parties. Others may have succeeded in killing a terrorist but only at the cost of also killing women and children at some festive event or another.
The protest of present and past CIA operatives against Manning for possibly endangering human lives is massively hypocritical.
The really interesting aspect of this entire story is that no one I have heard of has called the CIA operatives on their hypocrisy. No one has reminded them of what is part of their job day in day out – killing people who have not been arrested, charged or tried – and often killing people who are innocent of any political involvement.
Harvard acceded to the demands of the CIA managers. Their story that Manning had endangered lives was generally accepted. Manning was uninvited.
What this tells us is that one of the important perks of political power is that you can shape the dominant narratives. The way you tell the story is most likely to be believed by everyone even if you story is transparently false or incomplete or misleading or just a plain lie. The general public does not have to be forced to believe this story spread by the powerful. No threats of arrest by the secret police or of torture persuaded the general public that Manning was not a suitable fellow at the Kennedy school while former CIA managers complicit in the drone killing of civilians were acceptable.
In our present situation, powerful persons do not lie. On the whole, most of us are naive enough to swallow that. This the lesson to be learned from Chelsea Manning’s misadventure at Harvard.