Judging by his appearance on CNN last night, parsing the president's speech, recently fired State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley is making a transition to media pundit in record time. In an op-ed for the Guardian today, he addresses the reason he was fired, his desription of the treatment of accused WikiLeaker Bradley Manning as "stupid" and "counterproductive" during a speech at MIT.
Crowley starts by arguing that Manning is" rightly facing prosecution" and "if convicted, should spend a long, long time in prison." But, perhaps since he's already been fired for them, doesn't walk back his previous comments at all:
Private Manning's family, joined by a number of human rights organisations, has questioned the extremely restrictive conditions he has experienced at the brig at Marine Corps base Quantico, Virginia. I focused on the fact that he was forced to sleep naked, which led to a circumstance where he stood naked for morning call.
Based on 30 years of government experience, if you have to explain why a guy is standing naked in the middle of a jail cell, you have a policy in need of urgent review. The Pentagon was quick to point out that no women were present when he did so, which is completely beside the point.
The issue is a loss of dignity, not modesty.
Our strategic narrative connects our policies to our interests, values and aspirations. While what we do, day in and day out, is broadly consistent with the universal principles we espouse, individual actions can become disconnected. Every once in a while, even a top-notch symphony strikes a discordant note. So it is in this instance.
To put it another way, if your own previously reliable spokesman is calling a government policy "stupid" in public, you probably have a policy in need of urgent review.
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As you've probably heard, U.S. Ambassador Carlos Pascual stepped down from his post in Mexico City over the weekend following his WikiLeaks-based falling out with Mexican President Felipe Calderón. In noting his departure, we thought it would be worth looking back over the arc of the U.S. State Department's slow-rolling PR catastrophe -- now rounding out its fourth month -- and tallying the casualties. The results are here.
The WikiLeaks unfortunates are a pretty varied group -- the expected array of diplomatic officials and WikiLeaks associates, plus a few politicians, a CEO, a university administrator, and a dictator -- and it's hard to draw much of a trend line through the circumstances of their respective scandals. The first and last of them were both genuine scandals: A German party official passing documents to American embassy officials, the prime minister of India's party allegedly buying votes with chests full of rupees.
But what strikes me as most noteworthy is how un-noteworthy most of the cables that got a lot of these people in trouble really were. U.S. ambassadors were pulled from their posts for noting that Mexico's drug war was going badly and that Muammar al-Qaddafi was rather eccentric. The fact that Tunisia's Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali was a fantastically corrupt ruler was not exactly news to anyone in Tunisia. Europe's still-incomplete satellite system really is a boondoggle. There have been a few bombshells in the WikiLeaks cables -- some of them literal -- but these weren't them. They were significant only because they confirmed that the U.S. government knew what everyone else knew.
LUIS ACOSTA/AFP/Getty Images
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Nigerian politician Joseph Ibori wanted to create a "trust fund" with his stolen wealth.
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U.S. diplomats say British defense contractor BAE bribed a Saudi prince to secure a fighter jet deal.
U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley
is fired quits after
calling the Defense Department's treatment of alleged WikiLeaks source Pfc.
Bradley Manning "ridiculous
and counterproductive and stupid."
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In the summer of 2007, a "U.S. businessman and reputed lobbyist" approached American diplomats in Nigeria with a message from James Ibori, a Nigerian state governor. Ibori, the source said, wanted to "make a deal," according to a diplomatic cable released to the Nigerian newspaper Next on March 11: He'd create a foundation with a percentage of his probably ill-gotten wealth if foreign authorities promised not to prosecute him:
former Delta State Governor Ibori would like to establish a development trust fund for Nigeria, endowed with 20 to 50 percent of funds he "acquired" over the years, in return for promises by foreign governments not to prosecute him. This contact estimated Ibori's "acquired" earnings at some three billion U.S. dollars. As part of Ibori's proposal, an international board of directors would oversee trust fund spending, with five persons selected by the international community, including the United States and United Kingdom, and the remaining four chosen by Nigeria. The Ibori-proposed trust fund would support development projects for electricity generation, potable water supply, and police reform. Ibori would also undertake to convince other former governors currently under investigation to follow suit, and return billions of dollars in stolen money in exchange for agreements not to prosecute them.
There are few more storied politicians in Nigeria than the former Delta State governor, James Ibori, believed to be one of the country's most corrupt -- and hence, richest -- men. For years, he has operated in the upper power-echelons of the country's ruling People's Democratic Party, playing godfather to countless lower-level politicians and governors. But then in 2007, his luck started to run out. The British government started investigating him for corruption, and in a move that shocked everyone (including Ibori), the Nigerian government's anti-corruption body arrested him for graft in December 2007. (Within days, the top-corruption fighter who had issued the warrant, Nuhu Ribadu, had been sacked. Conspiracy theories -- suggesting that Ibori and his cronies had somehow exacted political revenge -- ensued.)
It's hard to say if the source quoted in the 2007 cable is for real. But the story he tells about Ibori certainly fits with the common urban mythology of the man. The lobbyist describes Ibori as the most powerful person in the ruling party -- the real power behind then-President Umaru Yar'Adua. It's widely believed, for example, that Ibori was allowed to appoint several of the ministers in the Nigerian president's cabinet in exchange for his support, financial and otherwise.
Reminiscent of Equatorial Guinea's president's recent attempt to create a "prize" in his name -- somehow legitimizing his wealth via philanthropy -- Ibori's deal would never have been laughed at in public, if it ever came to that. But it wouldn't be the first time that Ibori, believing in the invincibility of his power, would make such a silly mistake: Before his indictment for corruption in Nigeria, he tried to bribe the corruption commission with $15 million in cash. Little did he realize, it was being caught on tape.
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.
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Things just got even worse for Pfc. Bradley Manning, the alleged source for WikiLeaks' cache of U.S. military and State Department documents. The Army announced today that it has filed 22 new charges against Manning, in addition to the 12 counts he was initially charged with after his arrest in May.
Wired's Threat Level blog reports that the charges, which were filed Tuesday, "include aiding the enemy, theft of public property or records, computer fraud, transmitting defense information and wrongly causing intelligence to be published on the internet knowing it would be accessible to the enemy." Although the first charge is a capital offense, the Army has said it will not seek the death penalty. Even so, Manning is still looking at the possibility of life in prison. (Politico has the charge sheet here.)
Manning's lawyer, David E. Coombs, said in a blog post today that he and Manning had been expecting the additional charges for several weeks:
The decision to prefer charges is an individual one by PFC Manning's commander. The nature of the charges and the number of specifications under each reflects his determination, in consultation with his Staff Judge Advocate's office, of the possible offenses in this case. Ultimately, the Article 32 Investigating Officer will determine which, if any, of these additional charges and specifications should be referred to a court-martial.
As Threat Level notes, the capital offense charge could play into the deliberation over WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange's extradition to Sweden on sexual assault charges, which Assange's lawyers are in the process of appealing. A British judge ruled in favor of the extradition last week, and his ruling made virtually no mention of the political context of the case, effectively dismissing as implausible Assange's lawyers' arguments that an extradition -- even on unrelated charges -- would pave the way for their client's extradition to the United States on capital charges. Now that Manning has been charged with a capital offense, such arguments will be harder to dismiss.
Proceedings against Manning, meanwhile, are still on hold pending a psychiatric review sought by his lawyers. Politico reports that that review is expected to be completed in the next two to six weeks.