Bradley Manning comment costs State Department spokesman his job

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley resigned over controversial comments he made about the treatment of alleged WikiLeaks source US Army Pfc. Bradley Manning.

US State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley briefs reporters in July, 2010. He resigned following critical remarks he made about the treatment of alleged WikiLeaks source US Army Pfc. Bradley Manning.

Debate over the controversial treatment of alleged WikiLeaks source Bradley Manning apparently has cost State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley his job.

Manning is the US Army private first class being held in solitary confinement at the US Marine Corps brig in Quantico, Virginia. Crowley has been the assistant secretary for public affairs – the main briefer on behalf of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. A retired Air Force colonel, he served on the National Security Council staff under former President Bill Clinton.

Crowley’s exodus – reported in several news sources Sunday – probably was inevitable.

Speaking at a seminar at M.I.T. last week, he described Manning’s treatment as “ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid,” although he added “nonetheless, Bradley Manning is in the right place.”

Manning’s treatment since being arrested last May and charged with providing thousands of classified documents – many of them diplomatically embarrassing – has been the subject of considerable debate.

He’s being held in solitary confinement 23 hours a day in a windowless 6-by-12-foot cell, and for a time he was stripped naked at night – due to concerns about the possibility of suicide, according to defense officials.

Pentagon sources deny that Manning has been abused since being brought back from Iraq or that his confinement is anything other than standard operating procedure.

'Aiding the enemy' added to Manning charges

Twenty-two additional charges recently were filed against Manning, including “aiding the enemy” – a capital offense.

Pentagon Papers whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg has likened Manning’s treatment to torture.

Prolonged isolation, sleep deprivation, nudity – that's right out of the manual of the CIA for ‘enhanced interrogation’,” Ellsberg wrote on the website for the British newspaper the Guardian. “We've seen it applied in Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib. It's what the CIA calls ‘no-touch torture’, and its purpose there, as in this case, is very clear: to demoralize someone to the point of offering a desired confession.”

Ellsberg sees the increasing pressure on Manning as part of the Obama administration’s effort to stifle dissent of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“We see a campaign here against whistleblowing that’s actually unprecedented in legal terms,” Ellsberg told Monitor Pentagon correspondent Anna Mulrine earlier this month.

Crowley’s leaving the State Department – which may have been in the works anyway due to his relationship with Secretary Clinton – no doubt was accelerated by his statement at M.I.T., which caused an awkward moment for President Obama.

Obama had to answer Crowley's criticism

At his press conference Friday, Obama was asked about Crowley’s sharp criticism of Manning’s treatment.

"I have actually asked the Pentagon whether or not the procedures that have been taken in terms of his confinement are appropriate and are meeting our basic standards,” he replied. “They assured me that they are."

In other words, Obama – who campaigned against the mistreatment of Iraq War prisoners and who pledged to close the military prison at Guantánamo Bay – was put in the position of having to take the Pentagon’s word for it, despite continuing criticism from domestic and international human rights organizations.

In his statement regarding his resignation, Crowley acknowledged that.

"My recent comments regarding the conditions of the pre-trial detention of Private First Class Bradley Manning were intended to highlight the broader, even strategic impact of discreet actions undertaken by national security agencies every day and their impact on our global standing and leadership," he wrote. "Given the impact of my remarks, for which I take full responsibility, I have submitted my resignation as Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs and Spokesman for the Department of State."

There’s been speculation that Crowley’s comment about Manning’s treatment may have been influenced by his own father’s time as a prisoner of war in World War II.

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