P.J. Crowley’s departure

P.J. CROWLEY’S DEPARTURE…. About halfway through President Obama’s press conference on Friday, ABC’s Jake Tapper asked a provocative question: “[T]he State Department spokesman, P.J. Crowley, said the treatment of Bradley Manning by the Pentagon is ‘ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid.’ And I’m wondering if you agree with that.”

About a millisecond later, it seemed pretty obvious that P.J. Crowley would have to update his resume.

In terms of a response, the president, not surprisingly, largely dodged the question, saying he’d asked Pentagon officials about Manning’s treatment, and had been assured that the “terms of his confinement are appropriate and are meeting our basic standards.” In other words, the Pentagon is convinced the Pentagon isn’t doing anything wrong.

Yesterday, however, Crowley did what was expected, and stepped down from his post.

The remark by Mr. Crowley last week to a small audience at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, first reported by the blogger Philippa Thomas, was rejected by none other than President Obama at a press conference on Friday. […]

Private Manning’s lawyer had complained repeatedly about the conditions of his detention, including sometimes being deprived of his clothing, as a maximum security prisoner under restrictions intended to prevent self-injury, even though his supporters said there was no evidence that he was suicidal.

The president’s comment likely sealed the fate of Mr. Crowley, whose service as the chief spokesman for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been rocky at times.

Crowley’s departure was a foregone conclusion. His remarks about the Manning case weren’t made from behind a podium in Foggy Bottom, but rather, to a small college audience — that context really ought to count for something — but when a top administration spokesperson criticizes the administration, and that criticism is shared with the public, it stands to reason the request for a resignation will be practically automatic.

The next question, then, is whether Crowley’s comments were actually wrong. I’m not an expert in the details of Manning’s confinement, but based on media accounts, it appears the Pentagon has him locked up in maximum security, held alone in his cell 23 hours a day. Manning has, if the accounts are correct, been subjected to sleep deprivation and frequent nude spot-checks.

I can appreciate the seriousness of the charges — the Wikileaks document dump was obviously a dramatic embarrassment to the government — but Manning is an American citizen and an active duty soldier*, who hasn’t been convicted of anything.

What’s the argument that the mistreatment of Manning isn’t “ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid”? What’s the argument that Crowley’s criticism was incorrect?

Upon his departure yesterday, 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 discreet 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.”

That strikes me as wise advice. Perhaps Crowley isn’t the one who should be losing his job over the Manning controversy.

*Mannings status has been changed from “veteran” to “active duty soldier.”