2011-03-11 State Department Spokesman PJ Crowley denounces treatment of Bradley Manning UPDATE 2

In a new development, U.S. State Department Spokesman PJ Crowley has made a statement indicating that opinion is divided among officials in Obama's government concerning the punitive and inhumane pre-trial treatment of alleged Wikileaks whistleblower Bradley Manning.

While speaking to a small audience in MIT organized by the Center for Future Civic Media, Crowley was asked what he thought of the treatment of Bradley Manning. According to an attendee at the meeting, Philippa Thomas, Crowley unequivocally denounced the treatment of Manning by the Department of Defense as "ridiculous, counterproductive and stupid."

What did Crowley think, he asked, about Wikileaks? About the United States, in his words, “torturing a prisoner in a military brig”? Crowley didn’t stop to think. What’s being done to Bradley Manning by my colleagues at the Department of Defense “is ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid.” He paused. “None the less Bradley Manning is in the right place”. And he went on lengthening his answer, explaining why in Washington’s view, “there is sometimes a need for secrets… for diplomatic progress to be made”. But still, he’d said it. And the fact he felt strongly enough to say it seems to me an extraordinary insight into the tensions within the administration over Wikileaks.

Manning has been held for over 10 months in pretrial solitary confinement, and subjected to cruel and unusual conditions criticized widely by the press and by organizations such as Amnesty International. Crowley's statement is in dramatic contrast to that of the spokesman for the Department of Defense, Geoff Morrell, who stated in late January - contrary to the reliable reports of various witnesses - that "assertions by liberal bloggers, or network reporters or others that he is being mistreated, or somehow treated differently than others, in isolation, are just not accurate."

Crowley's statement can be added to those of anonymous military officials who spoke to NBC in January, indicating discontent with Manning's treatment. Nevertheless, Crowley's statement is the most high profile yet, and may be an indicator of far more serious differences of opinion with the Obama administration about the treatment of Bradley Manning. The statement serves as an indication that worldwide protests in support of Bradley Manning do not fall on deaf ears within the Obama administration, and that there is everything to be won by further action.

(18:24 GMT) Update:

Ethan Zuckerman has posted a transcript of the MIT event, here. The relevant passage is the following:

Charlie deTar: There’s an elephant in the room during this discussion: Wikileaks. The US government is torturing a whistleblower in prison right now. How do we resolve a conversation about the future of new media in diplomacy with the government’s actions regarding Wikileaks?

PJ Crowley: “I spent 26 years in the air force. What is happening to Manning is ridiculous, counterproductive and stupid, and I don’t know why the DoD is doing it. Nevertheless, Manning is in the right place.” There are leaks everywhere in Washington – it’s a town that can’t keep a secret. But the scale is different. It was a colossal failure by the DoD to allow this mass of documents to be transported outside the network. Historically, someone has picked up a file of papers and passed it around – the information exposed is on one country or one subject. But this is a scale we’ve never seen before. If Julian Assange is right and we’re in an era where there are no secrets, do we expect that people will release Google’s search engine algorithms? The formula for Coca Cola? Some things are best kept secret. If we’re negotiating between the Israelis and the Palestinians, there will be compromises that are hard for each side to sell to their people – there’s a need for secrets.

(18:34 GMT) Update 2:
Josh Rogin, writing for ForeignPolicy.com's Cable Blog, contacted PJ Crowley for a statement on the above story, and reported on it here.

Crowley confirmed he had made the statement, but claims that it does not represent the opinion of the government:

What I said was my personal opinion. It does not reflect an official USG policy position. I defer to the Department of Defense regarding the treatment of Bradley Manning.

The article also contains record of Obama's statement Friday that he had looked into the treatment of Bradley Manning, and had been assured by the Pentagon that everything is as it should be. Read about it here.

Bradley Manning is in the right place?

I'm glad Crowley has admitted what is being done is stupid, especially as he is high up in the Obama administration. But I have to wholeheartedly disagree that Bradley Manning is "in the right place". He should have been before a court months ago. We're not going to forget that he's locked away, the US can't sweep him under the carpet and hope this mess just goes away. The US Govts distain and disregard of international laws for torture and prisoner treatment has been appalling, they have sunk to new lows again and again. Not particularly role model behavior from the supposed leader of the free world...

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