Why U.S. Army Major Harrison Mann Resigned Over Gaza

Photo-Illustration: Intelligencer; Photo: Major Harrison Mann

In May, Major Harrison Mann posted a letter to LinkedIn announcing his imminent resignation from the U.S. Army. He had served for 13 years and spent the past three posted at the Defense Intelligence Agency as a foreign area officer. After October 7, he had begun to feel complicit in a great wrong. Israel had responded to terror with a campaign of bloody collective punishment in Gaza, yet the U.S. government’s support for Israel remained unshakeable. “My work here — however administrative or marginal it appeared — has unquestionably contributed to that support,” Mann wrote. “The past months have presented us with the most horrific and heartbreaking images imaginable … and I have been unable to ignore the connection between those images and my duties here. This caused me incredible shame and guilt.”

Mann submitted his resignation in November, and it took effect in early June. Now he has joined a small but high-profile series of official departures over U.S. support for Israel’s war in Gaza. Here, he speaks freely about his decision to leave the Army and publicize his resignation.

Could we start with your decision to enter the military? What drew you to the service?
Sure. This is a decision I made when I was in college. I’m somebody who went through high school and graduated high school near the height of the Iraq War. And without understanding, I think, all of the geopolitical or even domestic political aspects behind it, I just sort of understood, Okay. This is the big struggle of our time, and this is the thing that to serve my country I should participate in, in the larger global war-on-terror framework. That is what led me to start studying Arabic, which was the in-vogue language to study back then if you wanted to be a national security or defense person, and it was part of what drew me into the Army. I had this idea that it was going to be a really developmental experience and kind of toughen me up and be a really extraordinary experience I couldn’t get anywhere else. These were not the same decisions I would make today, but that’s what drew me when I was like 19 to start down this path.

You served for the past three years at the Defense Intelligence Agency. Could you speak in broad strokes about what your responsibilities were?
For most of the past three years, I worked at the Middle East Africa Regional Center of the agency, which is responsible mainly for producing intelligence analysis and reports on the Middle East and Africa broadly. So while I was there, I served in a number of administrative and leadership positions. I also served as an analyst myself for a while. For my last year, I was in the executive-officer position, which is essentially the assistant to the director of that entire center. So that’s a relatively senior intelligence official who oversees most of what the agency does related to that region. On October 7 and following that, it was a lot of, on my part, kind of behind-the-scenes work to help facilitate our crisis response.

You touched on this in the letter you posted to LinkedIn, but could you say more about the ways you felt like the work you were doing for DIA had contributed to the U.S. government’s stance on Israel and Gaza?Well, this is actually a great week to talk about it because I think some of our very senior policymakers just announced that U.S. intelligence support contributed to the hostage-recovery operation that happened over the weekend in Gaza.

That’s not necessarily what I worked on, but that is an example of how U.S. intelligence support can be very valuable to Israeli operations. The two countries have a very close intelligence relationship. Our Department of Defense and their Ministry of Defense have a very close relationship, and you can infer that the main intelligence entity, the Department of Defense, also has a close relationship with its Israeli counterparts.

Could you walk me through the process of making this decision, starting with when you might have begun to feel misgivings about the U.S. stance post–October 7?
I think immediately after October 7, anybody who follows this region, regardless of where they are ideologically, had this expectation that the Israeli response would be massive and violent. We saw in the first week after October 7 that the public statements of Israeli leadership indicated that they were interested in conducting some kind of collective punishment. They launched this air campaign where they were killing tons of civilians. So really from the first couple of weeks, it was clear that they were going to kill a lot of civilians, that that was not necessarily going to be accidental or a drawback for how they were conducting the operation.

We saw the risk, which was manifested very early on, that this was going to provoke a violent regional response by other forces or adversaries in the Middle East, both against Israel and, more important, against U.S. forces. And that started pretty quickly as well. I think the first attacks from the Houthis and maybe also from Iraqi militias started sometime in October. And finally, amidst this, it was pretty clear that the Israeli government did not have a serious or realistic plan for conducting the war. They didn’t have an achievable end state that would allow them to declare victory and wrap this up, which is very troubling because it means the war can go on forever if you don’t have an actual achievable goal.

Then, despite all of this, both at the public national level and what I was seeing where I worked, it was clear that U.S. support would be unlimited and was going to continue regardless of how Israel conducted the war, regardless of whether or not they had a plan, regardless of how badly things went. So that was communicated in the press by national leadership early on. It was also effectively communicated by the leadership in my community. It was clear that we were going to be along for the ride with whatever Israel did. As I’ve mentioned, even in the month of October, we basically saw the first bombings of hospitals.

There was one, Al-Ahli, that we took a really close look at and ultimately determined that one was not Israel. But that was the last time we subjected large explosions in hospitals to any kind of scrutiny. After that event, I realized we were never going to really make a big deal about the Israelis bombing hospitals again, and it kind of sunk in that our support was not going to change. So at that point, I was confident in having the expectation that every day I stayed in the office, I knew what I would be contributing to.

As you may also know, getting out of the military takes a long time if you’re an officer. So I told myself, Okay. Let me at least start my resignation now. And if nothing else, I can say I put in the paperwork in November, early on, and did the right thing. So that was that decision. You don’t give two weeks’ notice in the Army; it takes six months to a year. So I didn’t really have to do anything dramatic or make a big deal about it, and I didn’t explain the truth about why I was quitting. I was very afraid of how people would react because I wasn’t hearing anybody else expressing any concern and I knew I still had to be in the office for several more months.

I thought, Well, that’s going to be really awkward and difficult if I tell everybody that I think we’re basically engaged in criminal activity here but then I still have to go to the office every day. I also held out a lot of hope, which became increasingly less grounded in fact and evidence, that maybe the war would end in some capacity. Despite all the really obvious and discouraging trends, I hoped that maybe somehow it would end or the U.S. would finally cut its support and then I wouldn’t have to worry about this.

As you mentioned, I think, in your letter, you were leaving just shy of retirement. Was it difficult to reach the conclusion that this was what you needed to do?
I think I already was not planning on staying for 20 years to retirement, but I did have some ambitions and interest in doing another assignment. Yeah, it was difficult to think I was permanently closing that door.

My career specialty is normally people who staff embassies in the security cooperation office or the attaché office. And since I’ve been in that position before, part of the job is always that your local partners, the Army officers from the country you’re working in, are going to ask you about what’s going on in the United States and have questions about that. I tried to imagine how I would feel in an embassy somewhere — for me, it would only be the Middle East or North Africa — and having to answer questions from Arab officers about what we were doing with the Israelis in Gaza. And that I would be the one who had to carry water for that policy and how wrong that would feel. And I just kind of understood, I can’t be in that position.

Was there an event or an incident when you knew the Biden administration was not going to reconsider its strong support for the state of Israel in this war?
There were several, and I think I kept hoping against hope that they would reconsider. The first was when, after Al-Ahli, we stopped looking into any more hospital bombings. Just to be clear, Al-Ahli was not the Israelis, but there were many other strikes that clearly were. That was kind of one event. Then when the Israelis were clearly bombing the corridors they had told the Palestinians in Gaza to flee through, that was another. I think another big one was in January when we had the Tower 22 attack in Jordan that killed three Army reservists, which was done by I think Iraqi militias but was instigated in part by the Gaza campaign.

That was a moment too where I thought, Okay, wow. We’ve had the first U.S. servicemembers killed as part of this conflict. Will this be an indication that we’ve gone too far? And no, it wasn’t. We bombed some people in Iraq and carried on business as usual. There was the World Central Kitchen strike that killed several western aid workers in Gaza. You may recall that was the biggest outcry and public outrage we’ve seen to date. I thought, Okay, wow. Maybe now they’ve done it. That didn’t change anything. I think that was a moment where I 100 percent lost hope, so I shared my letter with my office.

Then as I was thinking and getting ready to share the letter publicly, we had the invasion of Rafah, which, of course, we’d said would be a red line. Then later that week, the president made a really unprecedented threat to curtail aid, and that also amounted to nothing. So with each of these, I went from hopeless to more hopeless.

In your letter, you describe yourself as a descendant of European Jews. On that basis, what’s your response to arguments that Israel’s actions are necessary, that they’re defending Jewish life right now?
Well, that’s just not true. The state of Israel’s actions have endangered Jewish life both in Israel and in the U.S. in ways that are unnecessary. The way Israel is conducting this war has prolonged it; it has incurred attacks from almost half a dozen different countries against Israel. On top of that, they are creating a situation where their children are going to grow up, I think, a lot like Russian children right now, which is they are going to find themselves in this pariah state. If they travel abroad, they’re going to feel embarrassed or like they need to conceal where they’re from.

They’re going to just find themselves in this position that was totally preventable and that they didn’t have to be in and that they weren’t in even a year ago. And it’s not just the way they’re conducting the war but the rhetoric that both Israeli and U.S. leaders have used to frame this as a war for all Jews that I find incredibly dangerous. Because I’m an American Jew, I live in America, I’ve served the American government. And we have people who should know better saying they are carpet-bombing and starving Gaza on my behalf, and I didn’t agree to that. Describing the conflict in that way will inevitably make people associate me and American Jews with the crimes that are happening in Gaza.

What would you say to people who may be in a position similar to the one you were in, who are wrestling with similar concerns and misgivings?
Thank you for asking that. I think there are a lot of things you can do if you’re in the position I was in, and some of them I didn’t think of while I was there. I think resigning is great and can be effective. It’s the most effective way, if you feel like you’re complicit, to end your complicity. But I also understand that’s not a feasible option for a lot of people. Everything I’m going to list here, I know someone has done it or somebody is working on doing it. One of these options is applicable to you if you’re in my position. Short of resigning, folks can ask for transfers.

They can tell their boss, “Hey, I’m going to keep doing 90 percent of my job, but the 10 percent that’s Israel support, find somebody else to do it.” I think it’s a good idea for people to do something I wish I’d done, which is express their concerns quite clearly to their supervisor or their chain of command and ask for assurance in writing that what they’re doing is legal, in compliance with both U.S. and international law, and in compliance with their organization’s code of ethics, which every military service and government agency has. I wish I’d done that because I think that would’ve given some leaders higher up the opportunity to reflect on exactly what they were asking people to do.

For folks who feel they can’t do that, I think the bare minimum, which still can be difficult but is much better than doing nothing, is just talking with the people you work with. Because as I discovered, there are a lot of people who feel this way who are afraid to voice their opinion. And once one person brings it up, they’re going to find out they’re not alone, and they’re going to find out that maybe somebody else they work with not only feels the same way but is empowered to take one of the other actions I described.

What did you hope to accomplish by making your resignation so public?
Once I understood that, because of who I am, my resignation would garner some attention and I’d get to talk to people like you, I felt a little bit of an obligation because I felt there was more I could do. And I knew, at the very least, my resignation would help draw attention to the incredible cost of the policy we’re pursuing. I also really hoped it would help other people in my position to understand that they’re not alone and to start thinking about the options they have. I’m really pleased that it’s had that result, and I’ve had some people reach out to me because they saw my letter, they saw the stories, and they realized they could be doing more and wanted to figure out what their options were.

Has anything surprised you about the reaction to your resignation?
I don’t want to tempt fate here, but the lack of hate and criticism. Which is not to say there’s been none. But the responses I’ve gotten — including from people I worked with and people from my industry in general — have been so supportive and so positive. I started out going to work and feeling crazy because I was like, Wow, am I the only one who cares about what’s going on? After all this, I feel crazy for a new reason, which is, Oh, it turns out tons of people feel this way, but they’re all making this war happen anyway. So that’s a better place to be in. I think if I’d understood that six months ago, I would’ve felt much more confident in speaking out and trying to organize within my own workplace. So I think the extent of the sympathy that I found was surprising.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

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