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Is treatment of WikiLeaks suspect Bradley Manning fueling State Department-Pentagon dispute?

According to his lawyers, military officials are holding WikiLeaks suspect Bradley Manning in conditions tantamount to solitary confinement, and he is forced to stand at attention while naked. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley says the treatment of Manning is 'stupid,' but President Obama says the Pentagon assures him it is appropriate.

March 11, 2011|By James Oliphant, Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- Public criticism by U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley about the treatment of an Army Pvt. Bradley Manning, suspected of giving classified material to WikiLeaks, has given rise to speculation about a rift between the State Department and the Pentagon over the handling of the prisoner.

Crowley told a forum in Cambridge, Mass., Thursday that Manning's treatment at the hands of the Defense Department "is ridiculous, counterproductive and stupid."

The remarks were first reported by BBC News.

According to his lawyers, Manning, currently jailed at the Marine base in Quantico, Va., is kept in conditions tantamount to solitary confinement and has been forced to sleep naked and stand at attention while naked. He is reportedly on suicide watch.

President Obama was asked Friday, during a news conference, about Crowley's comments. "I have actually asked the Pentagon whether or not the procedures that have been taken in terms of his confinement are appropriate and are meeting our basic standards. They assure me that they are," Obama replied. "I can't go into details about some of their concerns, but some of this has to do with Pvt. Manning's safety as well."

Crowley, the assistant secretary of State for public affairs, participated in a student forum at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on Thursday, and was asked his thoughts on the "torturing" of Manning.

He didn't respond to the allegation, but then went on to describe Manning's treatment as "ridiculous, counterproductive and stupid, and I don't know why DoD is doing it." Crowley said, however, that "Bradley Manning is in the right place," adding that "there is a need for secrets" in Washington.

Crowley has since confirmed making the comments, but Friday told Foreign Policy magazine that they were his "personal opinion" not government policy. The State Department has not commented on his remarks, and Crowley did not respond to a request for comment.

In December, the United Nations office for torture issues announced it was launching a probe into Manning's detention.

The State Department has been, along with the Pentagon, a fierce critic of WikiLeaks. Crowley himself labeled Wikleaks founder Julian Assange an "anarchist" in December.

Manning, 23, who served as an intelligence analyst in Iraq, has been charged on 34 counts, including illegally obtaining about 250,000 secret U.S. government cables and 380,000 records related to the Iraq war from a military database.

He has also been charged with aiding the enemy, a capital offense.

james.oliphant@latimes.com

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