PJ Crowley says Pentagon is being ‘ridiculous and stupid’ by subjecting WikiLeaks suspect to punitive conditions in jail
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” â€“ the US “torturing a prisoner in a military brig”, as the questioner put it â€“ he replied without pausing that he thought the Pentagon’s actions were “ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid”.
Details of Crowley’s comments, which he said were on the record, were posted on the personal blog of Philippa Thomas, a BBC news correspondent who is on sabbatical doing a Nieman Journalism fellowship at Harvard . She said she saw the remarks as an extraordinary insight into tensions within the administration over WikiLeaks.
The remarks were corroborated by another blogger who attended the seminar.
The comments are likely to encourage protesters who have maintained steady pressure on the defence department. The UN is investigating whether the treatment amounts to torture.
This week, in a legal letter, Manning gave his own description of conditions in the brig. “The determination to strip me of all my clothing every night since 2 March 2011 is without justification and therefore constitutes unlawful pretrial punishment,” he wrote.
Manning has been charged with multiple counts of handing state secrets to an unauthorised party. The charges include aiding the enemy, which can carry the death penalty.