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Michael Morell is in no position to pass judgment on Chelsea Manning.

Win McNamee/Getty Images

The former CIA director claims to have been outraged by the decision of the Harvard Kennedy School to appoint Chelsea Manning as a visiting fellow. In response to his resignation, the school’s president has rescinded Manning’s appointment. I have to say that I’m outraged by the the school’s decision. Let’s weigh the moral balance here.

Manning, who at the time was Bradley Manning, committed acts of civil disobedience when she worked in army intelligence in Iraq. In 2010 she leaked to WikiLeaks videos and documents showing gross American misconduct—verging on war crimes—in Iraq and Afghanistan, acts for which any American should cringe in shame. 

Manning’s revelations included American troops killing civilians, including women and children, and then calling in an airstrike to destroy evidence; the video of an American Apache helicopter gunship shooting civilians, including two Reuters reporters; American military authorities failing to investigate reports of torture and murder by Iraqi police; and a “black unit” in Afghanistan tasked to perform extrajudicial assassinations of Taliban sympathizers that killed as many as 373 civilians. Manning’s leaks also revealed American surveillance—contrary to the original United Nations charter—of the U.N.’s top leadership.

These were acts of civil disobedience, and you can argue that Manning should have had to serve a sentence in jail for them. But after she was arrested and before she was tried, she was subjected to what a U.N. inquiry later found to be “cruel and inhumane treatment” by her captors. That included eight months of solitary confinement in which she was kept in a cell 23 hours a day and forced to strip naked at night. At her trial, the government tried to convict her of  “aiding the enemy,” which could have been punishable by death.

Manning, in my opinion, is an American hero comparable to Daniel Ellsberg who leaked the Pentagon Papers during the Vietnam War. Morell? Well, he served in the CIA at a time when the U.S. was committing what could arguably be called war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan. Did he protest? We don’t know, but I am pretty sure that he does not possess the moral authority to pass judgment on Chelsea Manning. 

In his letter of resignation, Morell wrote that he fully supported “Manning’s rights as a transgender American, including the right to serve our country in the U.S. military.” Gimme a break. Morell is trying to put himself on the side of the latest cause in sexual justice. And it reminds me of the effort of Manning’s lawyers in the case to argue that her acts were the product of a young person confused by her gender identity.

No, the issue isn’t transgender rights. It’s an issue of an administration having committed the most egregious actions in the world. You can say what you want about the Trump administration, but to date its sins pale before what the George W. Bush administration did in Iraq. Manning was one of the people who tried to expose those actions. Morell was complicit in those actions. But now Morell, with the support of the Kennedy School’s chief bureaucrat, has the last word.