State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley has called the treatment of WikiLeaks suspect Bradley E. Manning, an Army private whom military jailers forced to sleep naked for several days last week, “ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid.”
Crowley made his remarks Thursday to a small audience in Cambridge, Mass., during a talk on “the benefits of new media as it relates to foreign policy,” according to Philippa Thomas, a BBC reporter who is a Nieman journalism fellow at Harvard University, writing in her personal blog.
President Obama, asked Friday about Crowley’s statement, said he had made inquiries about the conditions of Manning’s incarceration. “I have actually asked the Pentagon whether or not the procedures that have been taken in terms of his confinement are appropriate and are meeting our basic standards. They assured me that they are,” Obama said.
Crowley’s remarks reflect a “personal opinion” and are not an official U.S. government policy position, a State Department official said.
Military officials have said the measures were taken to prevent Manning from harming himself, but his lawyer cast it as a punitive step in reaction to a “sarcastic” comment Manning made about his confinement.
Manning, 23, has been held in pre-trial confinement at a Marine Corps base at Quantico since July. For most of that time, he has been in maximum-security custody and under “prevention of injury watch.” He is held in his cell for 23 hours a day and is required to give up his jumpsuit uniform at night. On Friday, officials said he is now given a sleeping garment at night.
Manning has been charged with sharing classified information with an unauthorized party, understood to be the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, and with “aiding the enemy,” a capital offense. Army officials have said they will not seek the death penalty.
In November, when WikiLeaks began releasing thousands of leaked diplomatic cables, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton condemned the disclosure as “not just an attack on America’s foreign policy interests,” but also an attack “on the international community — the alliances and partnerships . . . that safeguard global security and advance economic prosperity.”
But reports of Manning’s treatment in custody have prompted the United Nations special rapporteur on torture to make inquiries of U.S. officials. The State Department confirmed last week that officials had met with the special rapporteur and were preparing a formal response.
Manning’s father, Brian Manning, this week called his son’s treatment “inexcusable” and “degrading.” In an interview with a PBS “Frontline” correspondent, he said, “This is someone who has not gone to trial or been convicted of anything. They worry about people down in a base in Cuba, but here they . . . have someone on our own soil, under their own control, and they’re treating him this way. . . . It’s shocking enough that I would come out of our silence as a family and say . . . you’ve crossed a line. This is wrong.”
Col. David Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman, said in an e-mail that “none of the conditions under which PFC Manning is held are punitive in nature. All are based on his particular circumstances as a maximum security pre-trial detainee.”
He said that Manning’s circumstances are regularly reviewed and that they comply “in all respects” with U.S. law and Defense Department regulations.