When Chelsea Manning speaks at the Annenberg Center on Nov. 29, the Penn campus will be missing out on an opportunity. Rather than hearing from government transparency activists or transgender veterans who served with honor, the Penn community will hear from someone who betrayed her country, impeded national security, and put hundreds, if not thousands, of civilian lives at risk in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In 2010, Manning illegally transferred 700,000 documents to WikiLeaks, uncaring of the consequences for others. While the full scope of the impact of the leak on United States national security is debated, every report has concluded that at the very least it placed the lives of Iraqi and Afghan civilians at risk. People who provided information to coalition forces because they wanted to live in safer villages, free from the intimidation, threats, and violence of al Qaeda, Shia militias, or the Taliban must now live the rest of their lives fearing reprisals.
Manning claims to have been troubled by documents she encountered while using the military’s Secret Internet Protocol Router Network, but she did not take advantage of any of the legal outlets available to her. She did not raise concerns to her non-commissioned officer supervisor, to her commanding officer, or through any formal chain-of-command process. She never approached any inspector general or member of the U.S. House of Representatives or U.S. Senate Committees overseeing the war in Iraq, U.S. Intelligence Community, or foreign policy. She did not even go through the entire document cache she collected to evaluate what she really had her hands on.
And while the big picture national security impact is uncertain, the leaks had immediate impacts on the U.S. military and diplomats.The former U.S. State Department’s Under Secretary of State for Management, Patrick Kennedy, testified at Manning’s sentencing hearing that the leaks resulted in a reluctance on the part of foreign officials and private sector leaders to speak with American diplomats. She increased the threat posed to individual soldiers and Marines due to leaked military tactics, techniques, and procedures. While Manning’s actions may not have had a long-term strategic impact on U.S. national security, the lack of long-term effects are of little solace to a Marine facing an ambush designed to exploit U.S. tactics.
Despite the fact that Manning ignored reporting mechanisms and put lives at risk, a number of Penn organizations have invited Manning to speak, noting her transition and advocacy for transgender rights. Yet if the conversation is to touch on the service of transgender individuals in the military, Manning is a terrible choice. She betrayed her brothers and sisters in uniform and undercut the valuable work done by transgender service members and veterans.
The students at Penn would certainly benefit from the insight of an active duty service member or veteran that identifies as transgender. He or she would be able to offer a unique perspective on military service and the challenges they continue to face. The RAND Corporation, a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy through research and analysis, estimates that there are between 1,320 and 6,630 transgender active duty service members, which means that there are tens of thousands of transgender veterans — tens of thousands of individuals who served their country with honor and who kept faith with those who wore the uniform alongside them.
From these ranks, numerous activists have stepped forward. Former Navy SEAL Kristen Beck has been outspoken about her transition since her retirement as a member of SEAL Team Six. She has written a book about her experience titled “Warrior Princess,” participated in a documentary with CNN, and has spoken out publicly against President Trump’s actions to curtail service opportunities for transgender individuals. Former U.S. Army Reserve officer Sage Fox was the first transgender soldier invited to serve openly in uniform as her preferred gender identity. While she was unfortunately forced out the Army Reserve when her chain of command reversed its decision, she remains an activist, meeting with congressional staff and other officials.
Beck and Fox are just two examples of transgender service members who served with honor and remained faithful even as they faced setbacks and challenges as a result of their gender identities. The Penn campus would be fortunate to hear from their experiences and learn about their activism.
When so many Penn organizations sponsor an event, it comes with an air of credibility and honor. These organizations are certainly within their right to invite whomever they wish to have speak on behalf of their organization. But by inviting Manning, the organizations are lifting up the voice of someone who has proven herself unworthy and overlooking the voices of those who could truly bring an engaging conversation to the Penn campus.
FRANK BROOMELL is a second-year student at Penn Law from Sicklerville, N.J. He served four years in the Marine Corps, including two deployments to Afghanistan.
All comments eligible for publication in Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. publications.