Image courtesy of Freedom's Challenge.
On Thursday, BBC reporter Philippa Thomas shared impressions on her blog from a small meeting with Crowley at MIT, quoting his response to a question on reports about Manning's alleged torture:
"Crowley didn’t stop to think. What’s being done to Bradley Manning by my colleagues at the Department of Defense “is ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid.” He paused. “None the less Bradley Manning is in the right place”. And he went on lengthening his answer, explaining why in Washington’s view, “there is sometimes a need for secrets… for diplomatic progress to be made”."
On Friday, when asked about Crowley's remarks, President Obama said that he had been assured by the Pentagon that its treatment of the private is “appropriate.” He declined to go into details, but said that he had “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.”
Hence, the controversy.
On Sunday, the State Department issued a press release where Crowley said:
"The unauthorized disclosure of classified information is a serious crime under U.S. law. My recent comments regarding the conditions of the pre-trial detention of Private First Class Bradley 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. The exercise of power in today’s challenging times and relentless media environment must be prudent and consistent with our laws and values.
Given the impact of my remarks, for which I take full responsibility, I have submitted my resignation […].
[…]I leave with deep respect for the journalists who report on foreign policy and global developments every day, in many cases under dangerous conditions and subject to serious threats. Their efforts help make governments more responsible, accountable and transparent."
In the same statement, Hillary Clinton said:
"PJ has served our nation with distinction for more than three decades, in uniform and as a civilian. His service to country is motivated by a deep devotion to public policy and public diplomacy, and I wish him the very best."
Indeed, this can be seen as a major public diplomacy loss for the U.S.: a very public government official - someone who has often been the "face" of the U.S. in the international media - is apparently let go over his opposition to what many (abroad and in the U.S. itself) see as torture and unfair treatment Manning. A significant blow to the administration's continuous efforts to disprove charges that America tortures prisoners. Not the best image, I agree...
Yet, I do think that the case can also be a substantial PD gain, because:
1. Crowley stood by values and principles he had been advocating for, for so long. Shows his devotion and dedication (maybe). In any case, it can be portrayed as "public diplomacy of deed".
2. He did make a good case for his argument, standing by his previous explanations for the U.S. government's stance on Wikileaks.
3. He demonstrated that there are disagreements even within the U.S. administration and that he, as an official, can have a different opinion. Certainly, the fact that he resigned as a result mired this image, yet one can see (ok, I admit, you have to try hard) his freedom to state his mind as a positive aspect of "America".
The real public diplomacy challenge now, then, is to demonstrate that the torture allegations are really untrue and that the U.S. is truly devoted to all the principles of justice and fairness that it so proudly promotes abroad.