The Politically-Motivated Censorship of Chelsea Manning is Wrong

The American whistleblower has lost multiple speaking roles and now is being denied entry into Canada

Chelsea Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison after being convicted under The Espionage Act after leaking classified documents that exposed U.S. military cover-ups. (flickr/torbakhopper)

Chelsea Manning is one of the most polarizing figures of the last decade. She’s been the target of both adoration and hate from the public because, in 2010, she leaked hundreds of thousands of classified military documents to a the controversial watchdog organization WikiLeaks.

Manning believed she was doing the right thing because a lot of the documents contained evidence that U.S. soldiers had been breaking laws, killing civilians in the Middle East, and covering it up in their official reports. She was branded a traitor by the American government—one who endangered the lives of military personnel—though there were advocates in the public who believed her to be a martyr.

She was arrested in 2010 and charged in 2013 with committing serious crimes under the Espionage Act, serving seven years of her 35 year sentence—mostly in solitary confinement—until Barack Obama commuted her sentence during his presidency. She was released in May of this year, and soon after was scheduled to deliver a speech at Harvard University, though the school was pressured into rescinding the invitation.

Manning has been through so much, and must have such a unique perspective as a whistle-blower and an advocate for Trans rights, having transitioned during her imprisonment. It’s easy to think of how illuminating and interesting her speech would have been for students if the university had not caved in to the pressure of Manning’s opponents at the last minute.

This is an overt act of institutionalized censorship, and the people who made the decision to bar her from speaking should feel ashamed. Just because someone has a controversial reputation doesn’t mean that they deserve to have their opinions silenced in order to appease the masses. They invited her in the first place, so obviously somebody thought that her speaking would be beneficial for students. The fact that they later denied her right to share her story with others very clearly outlines where the school’s priorities lie. Manning later accused the school of being manipulated by the “police state” in America.

She’s right to call the university out for disinviting her. Bending to the will of political pressure and censoring individuals who have been demonized by the state was an act of cowardice, and was in no way made with the wellbeing of students in mind. It is a sorry example of how deeply embedded America’s political system is in otherwise free-thinking institutions, and how much control the government has in silencing dissenting voices like Edward Snowden or Julian Assange.

To make matters worse, Canada recently denied Manning the right to enter the country, citing her criminal past as a reason to not let her in. This isn’t the first time that the Canadian government has banned people trying to enter the country as a means of censorship. Eminem was barred from entering the country because of the offensive content in his rap lyrics. That decision wasn’t even based on legal grounds like it was for Manning, but it demonstrates the same point: Our government is not above censoring individuals out of political motivation.

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