State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley lost his job last month for committing one of Washington’s greatest sins — telling the truth.
The military’s treatment of alleged WikiLeaks leaker Army Pfc. Bradley Manning had, up to that point, been “ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid,” Crowley said. Thus the Pentagon took the unusual step Thursday of taking the press on a tour of Manning’s new home, for now.
“We want people to understand what the facts are,” Col. Tom Collins told me as we walked behind a pack of 14 other journalists at the medium-security military prison at Fort Leavenworth.
By “facts,” Collins meant the facts since Manning arrived in Kansas last week to await trial on charges of leaking hundreds of thousands of classified government documents concerning the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as sensitive diplomatic cables and details about Guantanamo detainees.
Collins was not referring to the “facts” to which Crowley was referring when commenting on Manning’s treatment in recent months at the Marine Corps brig in Quantico, Va.
While there, Manning claims, he was held in solitary confinement for 23 and sometimes 24 hours a day. He said he was harassed by guards and put on suicide watch as a form of punishment. That meant stripping naked each night and being denied use of his eyeglasses.
“No-touch torture,” Daniel Ellsberg, the Pentagon Papers leaker, termed Manning’s treatment in an article last month.
This month, 295 legal scholars signed a protest letter.
Stung by such criticism, the Army put its best PR face on. From now on he’ll be treated no differently than the nine other men in a special unit for prisoners awaiting trial: three squares a day, two hours of recreation, an hour of access to the prison library, visiting time, phone calls, etc.
Most important, he can interact with other prisoners.
“We consider this a major victory,” Kevin Zeese of the Bradley Manning Support Network told me Thursday afternoon. “The nearly yearlong solitary confinement was abusive mistreatment amounting to torture and should never have occurred.”
All the same, plans for a Manning rally push ahead.
“Personally, I believe that Bradley Manning is a whistleblower who sought to expose corruption and criminal activity within the United States government,” said Jim Davidson of Lawrence, who is organizing a protest set for June 4 near the fort.
Cohort Shane Thayer of Kansas City, who blogs under the nickname “Punk Johnny Cash,” feels similarly.
“I think what he did was much more ethical” than some of the actions Manning helped reveal by leaking the documents, he said.
A hero to some, a traitor to others. Either way, the Army claims it will take good care of the 23-year-old Manning for what could be a very long time.