US government spokesman resigns over Manning abuse comments

US State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley was forced to resign on Sunday over candid remarks he made about the Department of Defense’s treatment of Army private Bradley Manning, who is being held – under daily stretches of forced nudity – on suspicion of leaking thousands of classified documents to Wikileaks.

Speaking to a small group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (for a talk otherwise billed about “the benefits of new media as it relates to foreign policy”), Crowley called Manning’s treatment “ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid.” His comments were first reported by BBC blogger Phillipa Thomas, who was present at the talk, and then quickly spread throughout the media as evidence of internal administration controversy over the handling of Manning’s detention.

Crowley was asked his opinion about the situation after a series of damning articles appeared in the press detailing Manning’s conditions at the military brig where he is being held in Virginia. Defense officials admitted to stripping him of his clothes on a nightly basis for his own “safety,” although when pressed to explain how such treatment protects Manning rather than humiliate him, one official told The New York Times that discussing the details “would be a violation of Manning’s privacy.”

Liberal commentators have excoriated the government (and its subsequent justifications about Manning’s safety and privacy). President Obama directly rebutted Crowley’s assessment of the situation – a sign that boded badly for Crowley heading into the weekend – in a press conference on Friday, when he said he had been assured by the Pentagon that the “procedures that have been taken in terms of his confinement are appropriate and are meeting our basic standards.”

Those comments only further enraged many liberals who’ve long since grown disillusioned with the president who campaigned in 2008 on restoring America’s integrity around the world after years of infamous Bush-era detention abuses. In his resignation announcement Sunday, Crowley appeared to allude to the risk Manning’s highly publicized detention now poses to America’s standing abroad.

“The unauthorized disclosure of classified information is a serious crime under U.S. law,” Crowley said in a statement. “My recent comments regarding the conditions of the pre-trial detention of Private First Class Bradley Manning were intended to highlight the broader, even strategic impact of discrete actions undertaken by national security agencies every day and their impact on our global standing and leadership. The exercise of power in today’s challenging times and relentless media environment must be prudent and consistent with our laws and values.”

By signaling his approval of Manning’s detention conditions, and then forcing Crowley, a longtime public servant, from the State Department, many U.S. commentators now say Obama is cementing his surprising status as a particularly hard-line opponent of government leakers and whistleblowers.

TIME magazine wrote last week that Obama is “rapidly establishing a record as the most aggressive prosecutor of alleged government leakers in U.S. history.” Salon’s Glenn Greenwald wrote Monday that Crowley’s resignation “has apparently proven to be a clarifying moment for many commentators about what the President is and how he functions in these areas.”

Summed up The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates: “I think this is wrong. And it’s very hard for me to believe that, circa 2006, Senator Obama wouldn’t say as much.”