WASHINGTON - Chief State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley quit on Sundayafter causing a stir by describing the military's treatment of thesuspected WikiLeaks leaker as "ridiculous" and "stupid," pointedwords that forced President Barack Obama to defend the detention asappropriate.
"Given the impact of my remarks, for which I take fullresponsibility, I have submitted my resignation" to Secretary ofState Hillary Rodham Clinton, according to a department statementattributed to the office of the spokesman. In a separate statementreleased simultaneously, Clinton said she had accepted theresignation "with regret."
Crowley's comments about the conditions for Army Pfc. BradleyManning at a Marine Corps brig in Quantico, Va., reverberatedquickly, from the small audience in Massachusetts where Crowleyspoke, to a White House news conference Friday where Obama wasasked to weigh in on the treatment of the 23-year-old believedresponsible for the largest leak of classified American documentsever.
Manning is being held in solitary confinement for all but anhour every day, and is stripped naked each night and given asuicide-proof smock to wear to bed. His lawyer calls the treatmentdegrading. Amnesty International says the treatment may violateManning's human rights.
Crowley, who retired as colonel from the Air Force in 1999 after26 years in the military, was quoted as telling students at aMassachusetts Institute of Technology seminar on Thursday that hedidn't understand why the military was handling Manning's detentionthat way, and calling it "ridiculous, counterproductive andstupid." Crowley also said "Manning is in the right place" inmilitary detention.
A day later, Obama was asked about Crowley's remarks at a newsconference. He replied that he had asked the Pentagon whether theconfinement conditions were appropriate and whether they met basicstandards. "They assure me that they are," the president said. Hedeclined to elaborate when pressed on whether he disagreed withCrowley's assessment.
Crowley's resignation statement said that his comments aboutBradley's pre-trial detention "were intended to highlight thebroader, even strategic impact of discreet actions undertaken bynational security agencies every day and their impact on our globalstanding and leadership. The exercise of power in today'schallenging times and relentless media environment must be prudentand consistent with our laws and values."
In her statement, Clinton said Crowley, 60, who was a spokesmanfor the National Security Council in President Bill Clinton's WhiteHouse, "has served our nation with distinction for more than threedecades, in uniform and as a civilian." She said his service was"motivated by a deep devotion to public policy and publicdiplomacy."
Although Clinton had warm words upon Crowley's departure, henever got along with the secretary's inner circle. He waswell-liked by the press corps, but his often unusually bluntremarks from the State Department podium got him into trouble andhe had not traveled with Clinton on overseas trips in more than ayear.
His departure had been expected in the coming months, butofficials said the fact that the president was asked about hiscomments on Manning led the White House to push for him to gosooner. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss apersonnel decision.
Crowley will be replaced as assistant secretary of state forpublic affairs by Mike Hammer, a foreign service officer whorecently finished a stint as the NSC spokesman at the White Houseand was serving as Crowley's deputy. The department is expected tolook for a new full-time spokesman to serve as the face of U.S.diplomacy, the officials said.
The WikiLeaks case has put the State Department in a difficultposition with numerous allies and other countries because of thecandid and often unflattering assessments of world leaderscontained in the leaked diplomatic cables. Crowley and his staffhad walked a fine line in trying to answer questions about thedocuments while not being in a position to confirm the existence orthe accuracy of the classified material.
The release of the cables was denounced by U.S. officials, whosaid it put countless lives at risk by revealing the identities ofpeople working secretly with the U.S. While thousands of the cableshave been released, the bulk of those downloaded have not been madepublic.
Manning was charged in July with mishandling and leakingclassified data and putting national security at risk in connectionwith the release of a military video of an attack on unarmed men inIraq.
In early March, the Army filed 22 new charges, including aidingthe enemy, a crime that can bring the death penalty or life inprison.
The charges involve the suspected distribution by the militaryanalyst of more than 250,000 confidential State Department cablesas well as a raft of Iraq and Afghanistan war logs. Thousands ofthe documents have been published on the website of theanti-secrecy group.
Although aiding the enemy is a capital offense under the UniformCode of Military Justice, Army prosecutors have notified theManning defense team that it will not recommend the death penaltyto the two-star general who is in charge of proceeding with legalaction.
Trial proceedings against Manning have been on hold since July,pending the results of a medical inquiry into Manning's mentalcapacity and responsibility.