President Barack Obama said Pentagon officials have assured him that the treatment of Private First Class Bradley Manning, the detained soldier accused of providing classified documents to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, is “appropriate” and “meeting our basic standards.”
Obama declined comment at a press conference in Washington today on the reported remarks last night by State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley, at a forum in Cambridge, Massachusetts, that the military has “mistreated” Manning in a way that is “ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid.”
Crowley also reportedly said Manning “nonetheless is in the right place,” and that there is a “need for secrets” for diplomacy to be conducted effectively. He did not answer telephone and e-mailed requests for comment today.
Crowley is reported to have made his remarks in response to an audience member at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The questioner characterized Manning’s maximum security detention, and a requirement that he strip naked at night, as “torturing a prisoner,” according to a blog post by BBC News reporter Philippa Thomas, who attended the event as a journalism fellow on sabbatical at Harvard University.
“We are aware of Mr. Crowley’s remarks and have since sent him the facts on PFC Manning’s pre-trial confinement,” said Marine Corps Colonel Dave Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman. He cited a Defense Department statement that describes Manning’s confinement at Quantico as complying “in all respects with U.S. law and Department of Defense regulations.”
Manning is in a cell alone, like others in maximum or medium security at the facility, the statement said.
“In recent days, as the result of concerns for PFC Manning’s personal safety, his undergarments were taken from him during sleeping hours,” according to the statement.
Manning always had a blanket to cover himself. On one day, Manning “chose” to stand naked for morning count even though he was not forced to do so, the Pentagon said in the statement. Manning “has since been issued a garment to sleep in at night. He is clothed in a standard jumpsuit during the day,” according to the statement.
“None of the conditions under which PFC Manning is held are punitive in nature,” the department said.
Obama said he couldn’t discuss details about authorities’ concerns, though “some of this has to do with Private Manning’s safety as well,” he told reporters.
‘Aiding the Enemy’
Manning, 23, a former Army intelligence analyst, is awaiting trial on dozens of charges, including “aiding the enemy” and theft of public records. He is accused of copying a database of more than 250,000 diplomatic cables between March and May 2010.
Manning’s attorney, David E. Coombs, reported on his blog yesterday that Quantico Base Commander Colonel Daniel Choike had denied Manning’s request to be removed from “prevention of injury watch” and have his custody classification reduced from maximum to medium. Coombs wrote that if Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, who will make a final review, denies Manning’s request, his defense team will file a writ of habeus corpus to the Army Court of Criminal Appeals.
The United Nations special rapporteur on torture said he submitted an inquiry to the State Department about Manning’s treatment. State Department officials did not respond to inquiries today about whether the reply has been completed.
David House, a spokesman for the Bradley Manning Advocacy Fund, defended Crowley’s remarks today. “There is no justification for his inhumane treatment. I agree with Mr. Crowley that it’s just stupid and unproductive,” he said.