Reporting from Washington — The State Department's top spokesman resigned Sunday, three days after criticizing the Pentagon for its treatment of a soldier imprisoned on charges of leaking U.S. government documents posted on the WikiLeaks website.
P.J. Crowley, the assistant secretary of State for public affairs, told a group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on Thursday that the Pentagon's treatment of Pfc. Bradley Manning was "ridiculous and stupid and counterproductive." His comments were made public by a blogger who attended the session.
Manning was forced to sleep naked for several days under military rules intended to keep maximum-security prisoners who may be suicidal from injuring themselves. Manning's lawyers say he also had been made to stand at attention naked, and that there was no justification for his treatment in custody.
President Obama defended the Pentagon at a news conference Friday, when ABC television reporter Jake Tapper pressed him about Crowley's comments. Obama said he had been assured that Manning's treatment was "appropriate and was meeting our standards."
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in a statement Sunday that she had accepted Crowley's resignation "with regret" and praised him for his three decades of service to the government.
Crowley released his own statement, saying he took "full responsibility" for his remarks but not apologizing for them.
He said his comments about 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."
Manning, 23, served as an intelligence analyst in Iraq. He has been charged with 34 counts, including illegally obtaining secret government cables from a military database.
Crowley, a retired Air Force colonel, served as a spokesman for the Air Force and for the National Security Council during the Clinton administration.
But he was not a part of Hillary Clinton's inner circle that came to the State Department in January 2009, and there had been reports of differences with the secretary's staff.
State Department staff members have said in recent months that Crowley was expected to leave the position in the months ahead, to be replaced by Mike Hammer, a former National Security Council spokesman who recently moved to the State Department as Crowley's No. 2.
Hammer will step into Crowley's position temporarily, Clinton said in her statement.