Chief State Department Spokesman: Pfc. Bradley Manning Being Mistreated

There is, it seems, a public and rather extraordinary split within the Administration over the treatment of Private Bradley Manning, currently being held in the brig at Quantico:

Hillary Clinton’s spokesman has launched a public attack on the Pentagon for the way it is treating military prisoner Bradley Manning, the US soldier suspected of handing the US embassy cables to WikiLeaks.

PJ Crowley, the assistant secretary of state for public affairs at the US state department, has said Manning is being “mistreated” in the military brig at Quantico, Virginia. “What is being done to Bradley Manning is ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid on the part of the department of defence.”

Crowley’s comments are the first sign of a crack within the Obama administration over the handling of the WikiLeaks saga in which hundreds of thousands of confidential documents were handed to the website.

It is the first time anyone within the administration has expressed concern about Manning’s treatment, which has included being held for 23 hours in solitary confinement in his cell and being stripped naked every night. Until now the US government had presented a united front, promising to aggressively pursue anyone involved in leaking state secrets. Clinton herself described the WikiLeaks material as “an attack on America” and said “we are taking aggressive steps” to hold those who leaked it to account.

Crowley, speaking at an MIT seminar in Boston, did say he believed Manning was “in the right place”. He was presumably referring to Quantico, where the intelligence specialist has been held pending a court martial since July last year when he was arrested while serving in Iraq.

Crowley said: “There is sometimes a need for secrets for diplomatic progress to be made.”

But when asked by one of the audience what he thought about the “elephant in the room” – the US “torturing a prisoner in a military brig”, as the questioner put it – he replied without pausing that he thought the Pentagon’s actions were “ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid”.

Crowley’s comments were first reported by BBC journalist Phillippa Thomas, who noted this:

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.

A few minutes later, I had a chance to ask a question. “Are you on the record?” I would not be writing this if he’d said no. There was an uncomfortable pause. “Sure.” So there we are.

Indeed, there we are. Honestly, I’m not entirely sure that it’s appropriate for a State Department official to be commenting about this issue publicly. Manning is being held pursuant to the rules governing the military justice system, and there are procedures that can be followed to protest his treatment under those rules. Turning this into a dispute between the State Department and the Pentagon doesn’t strike me as particularly helpful. In any case, though, the comments are out there, and they’re likely to push this story even further into the mainstream than it has been to date.

 

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, Military Affairs, Quick Takes, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. James Joyner says:

    Crowley also issued a statement yesterday which seemed vaguely pro-Wikileaks, seeming to say that they were helping spur positive change in the region.

  2. TG Chicago says:

    Thomas said:

    A few minutes later, I had a chance to ask a question. “Are you on the record?” I would not be writing this if he’d said no.

    Why not? I don’t care for this idea that spokesmen can make statements then get a chance for a do-over if they want to claim it was off the record. I much preferred this exchange between a local reporter and Rahm Emanuel. The reporter wants to ask Emanuel about an incident in which Rahm sent dead fish to a political opponent.

    I’m starting to see how this works. He gives me five minutes. Then he spends part of it telling me how great I am and the rest of it filibustering.

    So I cut him off to mention the dead fish. I barely finish the sentence before he says, “Let’s go off the record.” And before I can agree, he says: “I sent one fish 26 years ago and you guys have been writing about it ever since. It’s like nobody ever changes. I did it. I did it with four other people. That was in 1987. People mature.”

    If both parties agree ahead of time that something is off the record, then it’s off the record. If not, then it’s not.

  3. Anderson says:

    Honestly, I’m not entirely sure that it’s appropriate for a State Department official to be commenting about this issue publicly. Manning is being held pursuant to the rules governing the military justice system, and there are procedures that can be followed to protest his treatment under those rules.

    IOW, just trust Defense to work it out and correct its own wrongdoing?

    Yeah. Right. Everybody else keep their mouths shut waiting for THAT to happen.