State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told an audience at MIT on Thursday that he thought the Defense Department's treatment of alleged WikiLeaks source Private Bradley Manning was "ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid."
Blogger Philippa Thomas first reported Crowley's remarks, which she said were part of a lecture on "the benefits of new media as it relates to foreign policy" at an event organized by MIT's Center for Future Civic Media.
"One young man said he wanted to address ‘the elephant in the room'. What did Crowley think, he asked, about Wikileaks? About the United States, in [the questioner's] 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'," Thomas wrote.
Reached by The Cable, 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 told The Cable.
Apparently unaware that his remarks would spark a controversy, Crowley thanked MIT over Twitter after the speech.
Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell declined to comment on Crowley's remarks.
Manning, who is being held in a maximum security prison and under isolation 23 hour a day at the Marine Corps' base in Quantico, VA, has been subject to daily disrobing and various other humiliations, which have been widely criticized by human rights groups including Amnesty International.
"PFC Manning is also being held under a Prevention of Injury (POI) assignment, which means that he is subjected to further restrictions," Amnesty wrote to Defense Secretary Robert Gates in January. "These 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. 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."
"The harsh conditions imposed on PFC Manning also undermine the principle of the presumption of innocence, which should be taken into account in the treatment of any person under arrest or awaiting trial. We are concerned that the effects of isolation and prolonged cellular confinement - which evidence suggests can cause psychological impairment, including depression, anxiety and loss of concentration - may, further, undermine his ability to assist in his defense and thus his right to a fair trial."
UPDATE: President Obama said Friday afternoon that he had personally asked the Pentagon if the conditions imposed on Manning were really necessary.
"They assured me that they are," Obama said. He wouldn't go into detail but added, "Some of this has to do with Private Manning's safety."
UPDATE II: Another blogger who was at the session reported that Crowley also said that Manning was being "mistreated," and that the crowd applauded.
UPDATE III: Another attendee Ethan Zuckerman posted his own transcript of Crowley's remarks, which includes a full text of Crowley's remarks about manning:
"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.
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.