PJ Crowley Explains Why Manning’s Treatment Is Ridiculous, Counterproductive, and Stupid

PJ Crowley has a very important Guardian piece on why he said the treatment of Bradley Manning was ridiculous, counterproductive, and stupid. After explaining that Manning, if convicted, “should spend a long, long time in prison,” and then claiming that the overall narrative of the State Department cables shows a story of “rightdoing,” he describes how Manning’s treatment undermines our own strategic narrative.

But I understood why the question was asked. 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.

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.

The Pentagon has said that it is playing the Manning case by the book. The book tells us what actions we can take, but not always what we should do. Actions can be legal and still not smart. With the Manning case unfolding in a fishbowl-like environment, going strictly by the book is not good enough. Private Manning’s overly restrictive and even petty treatment undermines what is otherwise a strong legal and ethical position.

When the United States leads by example, we are not trying to win a popularity contest. Rather, we are pursuing our long-term strategic interest. The United States cannot expect others to meet international standards if we are seen as falling short. Differences become strategic when magnified through the lens of today’s relentless 24/7 global media environment.

So, when I was asked about the “elephant in the room,” I said the treatment of Private Manning, while well-intentioned, was “ridiculous” and “counterproductive” and, yes, “stupid”.

I stand by what I said. The United States should set the global standard for treatment of its citizens – and then exceed it. It is what the world expects of us. It is what we should expect of ourselves.

While I suspect DOD is on narrower procedural grounds than Crowley gives them credit for (but by doing so, his own argument is stronger), Crowley is right that the treatment of Manning belies America’s claims to support the rule of law.

That said, I think Crowley is likely still too close to the government bubble to see how much else the entire WikiLeaks episode demonstrates the hollowness of “our interests, values and aspirations.” Starting from when the government probably hacked and then shut down a media entity, even while scolding Tunisia for doing the same, down to the many cables where we’ve placed our interests above any claim to rule of law or human rights.

And those are just the secret cables.

But I think that’s true of our policy-makers in general. Our country has totally lost its ability to invoke the myth of the noble America that made our hegemony more palatable globally. Manning’s treatment is just one of the most salient examples of that.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

      • DWBartoo says:

        EW, so long as Crowley goes with that “interests, values and inspiration” routine, assuring the public of “our” general moral “consistency” why wouldn’t the US Media promote it?

        If Crowley is not called on his nearsightedness in Jolly Olde, then what have the shapers of American opinion and fact got to fear?

        Government retaliation?

        Sternly worded letters?

        Or the displeasure of the ruling class?

        DW

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        Odd how top American media considers it rude to contradict their government, whereas the understated, queue-abiding Brits do so persistently.

        • Synoia says:

          Parliament is entitled to ask the Prime Minister questions.

          Her Majesty’s loyal opposition sees its duty to ask Her Majesty’s government questions, with raising any question about the Opposition’s Loyalty.

          There is no such thing as an “improper question”. If the press do not demand answers, the opposition will.

          Such is not the case in the US. There is no loyal opposition, and slurs of treason (Un-American) thrown about lightly, and the President can avoid question of conduct all the time.

  1. WilliamOckham says:

    As much as I hate the notion of defining our strategic interests in public relations terms, I think this is a case where the PR guy has the right of it:

    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.

    Even if you (like Mr. Crowley) give the DoD every benefit of the doubt, there’s simple no way to justify Manning’s treatment from a strategic perspective. There’s something deeply wrong at the DoD and Obama is unwilling to challenge it.

    • Arbusto says:

      Just because Manning is housed in a Brig doesn’t mean the Brig commander, Base Commander nor DoD unilaterally decided to treat Manning in this awful manner. More than likely our friendly FBI and possibly some trolls from the CIA thought his treatment would be a cute way to extract the truth they want, while documenting the results for future needs.

    • emptywheel says:

      Well said.

      Though if I had to guess, I’d say the reason they’re unable to see this–which is pretty obvious even to people who think Manning should spend his life in prison–is because they’ve already made similar decisions on other issues, and so have said to themselves that for expediency sake we have to sacrifice this PR value so many times they can’t think differently here.

  2. orionATL says:

    no, manning should not spend ” a long, long time in jail”; nothing manning has done warrants such an unbalanced sentence.

    in saying this, crowley is bending over to kiss the ass of the american power elite thru socially correct public rhetoric.

    he does this in order to protect his internal “credibility” with that elite and its corporate media handmaiden.

    but by doing so he looses his credibility with those outside that power structure, e.g., attentive citizens of other countries.

    i doubt you would find any but a small per cent of british, french, german, japanese, brazilian citizens who think manning should spend much time, if any, in jail.

    why would they? manning has done nothing to harm them, as he has done nothing to harm 99.9% of the american population.

    manning’s psychological torture,

    designed by the obama admin, i am now condident, to destroy his mind, and hence render him incapable of or unwilling to mount an articulate defense of himself,

    is just a modern instance of an age-old story of the policing power of the state severelt abused.

    the paradigm for that behavior was covered in “les miserables”.

    manning is jean valjean, technically a thief,

    pres obama is inspector javert, the amoral, rationalizing equal-applier-of-the-law-to-all –

    well, almost all.

    certainly all small people, but maybe not to financiers and constitutional law breakers.
    m

    crowley does himself dishonor by failing to state openly what he surely holds in his mind,

    that what manning and wikikeaks did was extraordinarily helpful to citizen understanding of the conduct of the american power elites in matters of great consequence to ordinary people – matters of war.

    i find crowley to be just the defense-state dept equivalent

    of the slithering, equivocating professor jack goldsmith of the united states dept of “justice”.

    neither can bring themselves to cut their ties with the power elite and suffer the consequences.

    bradley manning was far more courageous than crowley will ever be – manning guessed the consequences of his actions and took them anyway.

    crowley hedges his bets – as most other career bureaucrats would do.

    col. lawrence wilkinson, crowley is not.

    col. sam gardiner, crowley is not.

  3. lysias says:

    It’s not exactly U.S. corporate media, but I believe I heard this latest Crowley story reported on Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now! this morning.

  4. scribe says:

    1. If this is by the book, then the book is wrong.

    2. The United States always leads by example, and always is setting an example. It’s just that in this case, it’s leadership is going straight down the road to authoritarian hell and the example is one of hypocrisy being the path to “success”.

    • DWBartoo says:

      Yes, very well said, scribe.

      And, it is a shame, as well.

      Yet those doing the deeds which will, inevitably lead to unimaginable consequence … for the “people”, do not have such concerns as mere shame.

      Then, when you consider the likely Supreme Court decision regarding “public financing” in the “politics” of Arizona, and the implications arising therefrom …

      There can be no doubt that it all, every bit of it, is intentional, planned, and includes all three “co-equal” twigs of government …

      Mistreated and abused Brian Manning is not all that is standing naked revealed… now and henceforth.

      DW

  5. chetnolian says:

    If PJ Crowley wanted to impress us Brits, he should not have said “This strategic narrative has made us, broadly speaking, the most admired country in the world.”

    Does he really, really believe that? Does he honestly think the country that bombed Cambodia, supported South American dictators till there were none left, failed to find Bin Laden in his cave, shot down an innocent Iranian airliner and refused properly to apologise, supports Israel right or wrong, beats up on its tiny neighbour Cuba, trashed Iraq, set up Guantanamo, refuses to agree to the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, applies the ITARS with bureaucratic absolutism to its most faithful ally, believes in free trade till it hurts the USA, is popular? I thought up that list as fast as I could type.

    That might have played well domestically, but here in “Jolly Olde”, in all political classes, it really weakens his pitch.

  6. orionATL says:

    you tell’em, chetnolian!

    tell these dumb bastards in our ever over-lapping, incestous american power elite

    that they’ve been reading each others “america is the best —-; america has the best —” PR

    for so goddamned long they’ve convinced each other it’s true.

    it ain’t!!

    americans aren’t fooling anybody but themselves if they think glib public rhetoric will induce forgetfulness in thoughtful, concerned non-americans.

  7. lettherebelight2011 says:

    While Crowley may define the treatment as “ridiculous, counterproductive, and stupid”, what is noticably absent are the terms “unconsititional” or “illegal”. Why would an insider so knowledgeable about the situation and willing to put his livelihood on the line, not use such terms? Because even Crowley knows that Mannings’ detention, while arguably stricter than it needs to be, is not inconsistent with the treatment towards other pre-trial detainees with a history of mental health issues.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      And Gitmo detainees are “arguably” kept in stricter conditions than they need to be.

      I admire your capacity for understatement, but I don’t believe Mr. Manning had problems with his mental health – beyond those of any other LGBT person growing up in America – before his incarceration at Quantico.

      Mr. Manning’s nearly a year of abusive solitary confinement, combined with an elegant array of other mistreatments, may be the sort of thing Dr. James thinks up in his comfy, well-dressed sleep in Dayton. But it’s not designed to stabilize, protect or even respect Mr. Manning’s mental health. It is designed to subvert it to serve the government’s purposes.

      If the government can’t make its case without subjecting a pre-trial detainee to a year of abusive treatment, then it has no case to make. Either that or it is intent on punishing its prisoner for reasons unrelated to that prisoner’s own conduct, proven or otherwise. That is “arguably” a perversion of justice and of civil and human rights.

      • lettherebelight2011 says:

        “No intent to punish”, remember those four words because when a judge finally rules on Manning’s forthcoming motions speedy trial/pretrial punishment those will be the four words that will be grounds for denying any relief. Then the weird amalgamation of anti-government, anti-war, anarchists, leftists, and LGBT activists can blog about how the legal system screwed Manning. Do me a favor though, in your rush to the next cause make sure you remember to write Manning letters in 2025 while he is still in confinement.

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          De facto punishment is rather more important than parsing whether one’s intent was a, the sole, a primary, or an incidental reason to inflict it.

          I admire your advocacy for the rule of law and due process. But your observation that Mr. Manning will “still” be in jail in 2025 seems to conclude that he is guilty before prosecution, trial, conviction and appeal – or that Mr. Obama and his several successors will simply keep him in jail anyway. How Red Queenish.

          The government’s behavior is open and notorious, allowing reasonable conclusions to be drawn from it. Mr. Manning’s behavior has yet to be proven.

  8. Jeff Kaye says:

    You left out the question Crowley was referring to at the start of your quote from his article. From the beginning of the same article you quoted, but bold emphasis is mine:

    Earlier this month, I was asked by an MIT graduate student why the United States government was “torturing” Private First Class Bradley Manning, who is accused of being the source of the WikiLeaks cables that have been reported by the Guardian and other news outlets and posted online. The fact is the government is doing no such thing. But questions about his treatment have led to a review by the UN special rapporteur on torture, and challenged the legitimacy of his pending prosecution.

    Mr. Crowley, the fact is the treatment of Manning is torture, and if not torture, at the very least “cruel and inhumane or degrading treatment,” which is outlawed by both Geneva and the Convention Against Torture.

    Later in the article, as quoted in this blog post, Crowley says, “The Pentagon has said that it is playing the Manning case by the book. The book tells us what actions we can take, but not always what we should do. Actions can be legal and still not smart.”

    Crowley’s public relations approach to torture is not my cup of tea. Just because he was essentially fired for what he said, doesn’t mean that he is any friend to the cause. In fact, his assertion that this is only bad PR for America, “the most admired country in the world,” or “counterproductive” and “stupid”, as Crowley called Manning’s treatment earlier this month, represents a version of realpolitik that has very little in common with being anti-torture. I do remember that Crowley said after the Abu Ghraib scandal broke:

    “It reiterates how important the battle for hearts and minds is, and how poorly we’re doing,” said P.J. Crowley, a one-time Pentagon spokesman who is director of national defense and homeland security at the Center for American Progress, a liberal-leaning research institute….

    “It is difficult for us to preach democracy on the one hand when acting undemocratically — if not illegally — on the other hand,” Crowley said.

    While Crowley was more open to labeling the Abu Ghraib treatment as most likely illegal (from his standpoint), you can see his first priority remained the image-making problems such treatment caused for the United States. So he is certainly consistent. But frankly, I don’t see much to admire here, especially when he repeats the lie that the release of the cables “placed the lives of activists around the world at risk.”

    Evidence, please, Mr. Crowley.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Evidence, please, Mr. Crowley.

      I imagine we will hear that that’s a state secret, so we should just trust ’em on it.

    • orionATL says:

      jeff kaye,

      it’s not just that crowley is doing pr.

      at the same time, crowley is skirting around torture, both with respect to manning and to abu ghraib, including

      never using the word and

      never conceding that any treatment is torture.

      that is the u.s. position, illegal though it be.

      this demonstrates that crowley’s loyalty is to the power elite that constructed and protects that position, rather than to the truth or to the american people.

      what crowley is doing specifically is supporting, ex officio, state department positions in criticism of dod positions.

  9. sfmikey says:

    Correct me if I’ve got it wrong, but I think Mr. Crowley’s criticism of the conditions of Pfc. Bradley Manning’s detention had more to do with it undermining the government’s case against Manning than anything else. I never got the sense that Crowley was too concerned about the revelations of war crimes Manning allegedly exposed. If this is all true, then Crowley is a dick.

  10. eCAHNomics says:

    But I think that’s true of our policy-makers in general. Our country has totally lost its ability to invoke the myth of the noble America that made our hegemony more palatable globally.

    You are absolutely wrong, ew. If you don’t believe me, just listen again to the speech O made last night. HE told us we are super duper special. /s

  11. Knox says:

    PJ Crowley was fired for saying publicly that something being done by the government he worked for is “ridiculous, counterproductive, and stupid.”

    I hope he said it publicly after having said it behind closed doors and after having heard others in positions of power say it behind closed doors and after having seen that, despite protests behind closed doors, what was – and is still – being done by the government was not stopped.

    I hope this is what happened, because the alternative is that there’s no one in our own government with enough brains to see when there’s something so obviously wrong and with enough courage to speak up about it even behind closed doors.

    What would that say about our government?

    The mistreatment and torture of Bradley Manning should not be happening and must stop.

  12. tjbs says:

    Does barry have a closed circuit TV feed so he can review Manning’s penis in the morning ?

    Inquiring minds would like to know.

  13. donbacon says:

    Our country has totally lost its ability to invoke the myth of the noble America that made our hegemony more palatable globally. Manning’s treatment is just one of the most salient examples of that.

    The myth of the noble America is just that — a myth that exists only in some American minds. They need to get out more.

    • Knox says:

      Maybe what’s been happening on this and the previous administration’s watches is partly the result of that global hegemony coming to an end.

  14. michaelfishman says:

    …the treatment of Private Manning, while well-intentioned…

    Whatever else Crowley thinks about the treatment of Bradley Manning, he thinks it is well-intentioned.

    • Knox says:

      Looks like Crowley is saying what he really thinks (that the treatment is “overly restrictive” and even “petty”), while still trying to be diplomatic (saying that those treating Manning badly aren’t doing it because they’re evil).

      That’s how I read it.

      Crowley doesn’t seem like the kind of person to lash out emotionally even when he knows that what’s happening is wrong, shouldn’t be happening, and needs to stop.

      • michaelfishman says:

        If Crowley can’t see evil or malice in the way Manning is being treated, why give any credence to anything he says?

  15. sfmikey says:

    America enshrined some noble Enlightenment ideals in its Declaration of Independence and its Constitution. (Impossible to believe the current generation could be so courageously enlightened, hundreds of years later.) As a great slave-holding power and implacable force for genocidal wars against native populations, we were not so enlightened after all. The oligarchs and government lackeys have always opposed labor and civil rights with incredible violence. And there’s more. But, ah yes, American ‘exceptionalism.’

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Exceptional in a thspecial way.

      The famous 3/5’s compromise, for example, wasn’t about giving African American slaves the vote or any other civil rights. After it, they were still property, like a bail of hay or a productive draft horse. The compromise was about giving predominantly southern states greater representation in the House than the populations of their white citizens alone would have justified. Exceptional levels of representation was their price, which they felt was needed to avoid moves to outlaw or regulate slaveholding, the fulcrum upon which the southern economy rested.

      That special treatment was for whites only. Less slave-populous northern states accepted it as a necessary evil to get the South to go along with the rest of the Constitution.

      • sfmikey says:

        And in the name of Manifest Destiny and the White Man’s Burden, as the country moved west, the compromise allowing a slave state for each free state could not hold. How could a free white man compete against a slave? As much as anything else, this was probably the economic trigger for Civil War: the labor of free white men, not necessarily the nedd to free human beings brought here against their will.

  16. donbacon says:

    This is American Exceptionalism.

    While what we do, day in and day out, is broadly consistent with the universal principles we espouse, individual actions can become disconnected.

    What the U.S. (not “we”) does, day in and day out, hasn’t changed in years (as noted above) and it often has included wrongful actions, both governmental and individual. Visit the Cherokee Museum in Oklahoma for some proof. In other words “the universal principles we espouse” are a myth.

    • eCAHNomics says:

      This is my fave example on American exceptionalism. Before the U.S. was even a country, colonialists invaded Canada as one of the early battles of the revolutionary war, bc they (Puritans by in large) thought they were the people chosen by god to have America, and Canada should belong to them too.

  17. CassandraBearingWitness says:

    Crowley understates the outrages upon Manning and ignores the war crimes that reportedly motivated him. The nudity is a minor issue, but prolonged solitary confinement is, according to Psychologists for Social Responsibility and Physicians for Human Rights, a form of torture which causes psychosis and suicidal depression, and there is no rational reason for its application to Manning. He was reportedly motivated to release the diplomatic cables, which according to Gates pose no threat to national security and no risk to individuals, because his commander brusquely brushed off his concerns about his unit’s mission of apprehending Iraqis and turning them over to Iraqi officials who were torturing them with electric shocks and power drills, just like in the good old Saddam days. Of course this in itself would be a war crime, but you’re not going to see Obama, Gates or Holder taking action. Instead they’re focused on revenge on Manning for embarrassing them with that most toxic of substances in Washington–truth.

  18. donbacon says:

    I don’t have the numbers but I’m sure it’s highly unusual to put a soldier in a Marine brig. Why did they do it? Why did they put a gay Army soldier under gay-hating Marine custody? To ask the question is to answer it.

    Crowley’s dad was a POW, and he himself spent 26 years in the Air Force, but he didn’t ask that question did he.

    “The United States cannot expect others to meet international standards if we are seen as falling short.” Well, damn, P.J., this isn’t exactly the first time the U.S. military has forced nudity on prisoners. Ever hear of abu Ghraib P.J.? Meeting international standards isn’t exactly Job One for the U.S. war machine. Quite the opposite, I’d say. Falling short has unfortunately become a national habit.

  19. readerOfTeaLeaves says:

    FYI: Dylan Ratigan (MSNBC) had Crowley on as a guest today and pointed out that just today, an ‘anonymous source within DoD’ provided a leak about how Ghaddafi’s forces were taking bodies out of morgues to place them in locations that made it appear that coalition forces had killed the deceased. Irrespective of the accuracy of that report leak, Ratigan’s point was a good one: how is it that someone high up in DoD can provide ‘anonymous’ leaks the the media, while Manning is kept stark naked in the brig.

    Talk about your disrupted na.ra.tive…

  20. unlawflcombatnt says:

    Good assessment, emptywheel.

    Crowley certainly is far too close to the issue, and only sees a small part of the wrongdoing. Crowley’s only criticism is of how Manning is being treated as–what Crowley perceives of as–a probably guilty criminal.

    In fact Manning further enlightened Americans to the war crimes that are being committed in our name–and previously without our knowledge.

    Bradley Manning is a national hero. It’s unfortunate that Crowley had to interject his own pro-Obama, pro-Corporatist, pro-Authoritarian v iewpoint into his piece.

    The President is not a King. The Constitution limits his authority by design. He has NO authority to authorize the torture or abuse of prisoners, be they foreign or domestic.

    The treatment of Bradley Manning is absolutely illegal and un-Constitutional. If Obama really was the Constitutional lawyer he is touted as being, he would have ORDERED the release of Bradley Manning (since, as commander-and-chief of the armed forces, that is within his authority).

  21. lettherebelight2011 says:

    “de facto” and “open and notorious”, eh??? These are legal terms, though wholly inapplicable to Manning’s case. No question Manning will argue the Brig’s actions were punitive but pretty confident the level of publicity has made military officials cross their t’s and dot their i’s. Just think, the left’s protests and petitions – which in turn have made the marines all the more conscious of the pending legal issue – will probably ensure that any motions for relief are denied.