A small mercy: PJ Crowley, a department of State spokesman, broke the iron circle of consensus about the harsh conditions in the Quantico, Va., military gaol to which Bradley Manning has to forcefully submit.
Crowley qualified Manning's treatment as 'counterproductive and stupid', yet his detention is justified, the more especially since he 'allegedly'is accused of leaking US diplomatic cables to Wikileaks.
He made his remarks not at a press conference, nor during questioning by talking heads on the television, nor an off the cuff riff as he was rushing off to a meeting:
they were pronounced at MIT, one America's elite universities, a hothouse of future scientists, engineers, bankers, and political leaders. His words, thus, takes on a weight they might have not if made, say, in a college in South Dakota.
Briefly let's look at the 'cruel and usual punishment' applied liberally to Manning:
strip searches; standing buck naked in front of his cell as a deliberate punishment to humiliate and break Manning's sense of self. 23 hours in lock down with a lone hour of a walk in the outside, deprived of any other human contact in the prison yard. 23 hours of intense lighting which has but a singular goal to foster sleep deprivation and as another means to break Manning. Practices which are common coin at Quantanamo or Abu Gharib of Baghram Air Force base in Afghanistan. Overall, it is a not so subtle form of 'torture', condemned by international law, which the US ignores as it sees fit or rewrites its own laws to fit its harsh measures.
Manning's mother, lawyer, Amnesty International, and the American Civil Liberties Union have strongly protested the government's treat of Manning, to no avail.
Crowley himself had no opinion on the subject of torture. President Obama, as is his wont, hid behind the wooden language the Pentagon uses: the confinement of Manning is appropriate and as commander in chief, his military bureaucrats assured him that Manning's detention fall within 'civilised norms'.
Suddenly, Crowley found itself on the hot seat. He took refuge in saying he simply expressed his own personal opinions. His 'apologia pro sua lacunae' crackled on the news wires. Obama covered Crowley's 'gaffe', by stressing the personal nature of the state department spokesman. Nonetheless, his statement had the effect of a hiccup which put more 'ammo' in the arsenal of Manning's defenders.
As for Crowley, we wonder if his making a 'major' pronouncement at MIT, he might, as a skilled handler of the public and the press, have exercised more control. We shall never know since his audience's questions triggered a moment of less guarded thought, but elicited an opinion to which he had long given thought. Will this put a crimp in his career? It should surprise no one if in a month or two or three, Crowley leaves his post for a plummy post in the world of think tanks and foundations.
Finally, Crowley's remark put the spotlight on the 'totalitarian' measures applied to Manning, measures which we would find in Mubarak's gaols, or Israeli detention camps, or Gadhafi's Libya.