US state department spokesman PJ Crowley said the treatment of Bradley Manning (photo, from bbcimg.co.uk) is “ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid”.
In front of an audience at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to talk about the benefits of new media as it relates to foreign policy, Mr Crowley also said :
“What is happening to Manning is ridiculous, counterproductive and stupid, and I don’t know why the DoD [Department of Defense] is doing it. Nevertheless, Manning is in the right place.”
He added that in Washington’s view “there is sometimes a need for secrets… for diplomatic progress to be made”.
Accused of leaking secret cables to whistleblowing website Wikileaks, Private Manning is being held in solitary confinement at a maximum security US military jail.
He is shackled at all times and has been on suicide watch at the Quantico marine base in Virginia.
When asked if his remarks were on the record Mr Crowley replied : “sure”.
He told Foreign Policy website : “What I said was my personal opinion. It does not reflect an official USG policy position. I defer to the Department of Defense regarding the treatment of Bradley Manning.”
On Friday Barack Obama was asked whether he agreed with Mr Crowley’s comments. The US president answered by saying that he had asked the Pentagon directly if the terms of Pte Manning’s confinement were “appropriate” and received assurances that they were.
Some aspects of Pte Manning’s treatment “has to do with his safety as well”, he added.
Earlier this year his treatment was described as “unnecessarily harsh and punitive” by Amnesty International, who has called on the British government to intervene for Pte Manning, whose mother is Welsh.
His lawyers released a letter in which he claims to be routinely stripped each night and that his prescription glasses are confiscated, leaving him with limited vision.
However this is standard procedure for people considered a suicide risk, said military officials.
There was clearly “no justification for Bradley’s inhumane treatment”, according to David House, a spokesman with the Bradley Manning Advocacy Fund
He added : “I agree with Mr Crowley that it’s just stupid and unproductive.”
Illegally obtaining 250,000 secret US government cables and 380,000 records related to the Iraq war from a military database, are some of the 34 counts Pte Manning has been charged with.
Although he has also been charged with aiding the enemy, which is a capital offence, prosecutors asserted that they will not seek the death penalty.