State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley has publicly admonished the U.S. Defense Department for its treatment of alleged WikiLeaks source Private Bradley Manning. In a speech on "the benefits of new media as it relates to foreign policy" delivered at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Thursday, Crowley told an audience that the Pentagon was being "ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid" in its detention of Manning.
In a Q&A session, an audience member asked Crowley what he thought about WikiLeaks, an online site dedicated to publishing private, secret, and classified information from anonymous news sources and info leaks. The question (in the questioner's words) asked about the United States "torturing a prisoner in a military brig."
According to Blogger Philippa Thomas who first reported the story, "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. ‘Nonetheless 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.'"
Here is an unofficial transcript of Crowley's remarks:
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.
On Friday, Crowley confirmed that he did in fact make the remarks. "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," Crowley said.
Some human rights groups -- including Amnesty International -- have criticized the Pentagon for holding Manning in a maximum security prison at a Marine Corps base in Quantico, Va.
A Pentagon spokesman declined to comment on Crowley's remarks, but during his energy press conference Friday, President Obama was pressed to clarify his administration's stance. Obama said he had personally asked the Pentagon if the conditions imposed on Manning were entirely necessary.
"They assured me that they are," Obama said. Without going into detail, Obama added: "It has something to do with his safety."
Private Manning is being held under a Prevention of Injury (POI) assignment which means he is subjected to further restrictions than normal prisoners.
"These [restrictions] include checks by guards every five minutes and a bar on his sleeping during the day. He is required to remain visible at all times, including during night checks," Amnesty International complained in a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates in January. "His POI status has resulted in his being deprived of sheets and a separate pillow, causing uncomfortable sleeping conditions; his discomfort is reportedly exacerbated by the fact that he is required to sleep only in boxer shorts and has suffered chafing of his bare skin from the blankets."
Manning was charged last July with transferring classified data onto his personal computer and communicating national defense information to an unauthorized source. Earlier this month, the Pentagon announced an additional 22 charges, including "aiding the enemy," a capital offense. He is currently awaiting a hearing to decide whether he will face a court martial.