P.J. Crowley Forced to Resign After Condemning Manning Treatment

P.J. Crowley, Safe at Home: A National Security Strategy to Protect the American Homeland, the Real Central Front, paper for Center for American Progress, February 2008:

Most of the world now believes, fairly or not, that America is on the wrong side of history. While the Bush administration acknowledged the vital importance of winning hearts and minds in its revised 2006 counterterrorism strategy, too often since 2001, U.S. policies have neither matched our values, nor what we preach to the rest of the world. We are perceived, accurately or not, as operating secret and illegal prisons, condoning torture, denying legal rights, propping up autocratic regimes, and subverting fair elections….

On this front, Al Qaeda is actually vulnerable. The vision of Islamic society that bin Laden propagates—his bridge to the seventh century—is not shared by the masses. In Iraq and elsewhere, Muslims have turned against bin Laden once they recognized that Al Qaeda’s violent attacks largely victimize fellow Muslims.

But turning the tide is simply not possible as long as the United States pursues its current strategy—occupying Iraq, defending autocratic leaders such as Musharraf and violating international norms regarding torture and the treatment of detainees. Such actions create the perception of grievance that opens the door to radical recruitment. The key is making this struggle more about Al Qaeda’s actions than those of the United States.

I’ll come back to this point in a second, but above is the mainstream liberal critique of the Bush administration’s expanded authority regime.

Philippa Thomas, Friday, quoting P.J. Crowley (my bold):

I just heard an extraordinary remark from State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley. He was speaking to a small audience at MIT on “the benefits of new media as it relates to foreign policy”, an event organised by the Center for Future Civic Media….inevitably, one young man said he wanted to address “the elephant in the room”. What did Crowley think, he asked, about Wikileaks? About the United States, in his words, “torturing a prisoner in a military brig”? 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”.

CNN, Sunday:

P.J. Crowley abruptly resigned Sunday as State Department spokesman over controversial comments he made about the Bradley Manning case.

Sources close to the matter said the resignation, first reported by CNN, came under pressure from the White House, where officials were furious about his suggestion that the Obama administration is mistreating Manning, the Army private who is being held in solitary confinement in Quantico, Virginia, under suspicion that he leaked highly classified State Department cables to the website WikiLeaks.

Look again at what Crowley said, especially in line with his 2008 paper.  The extreme measures military officials are putting a U.S. citizen and soldier awaiting trial through, including extended isolation and mandatory nudity, is both wrong and counterproductive.  It alienates potential allies, bolsters the narrative of terrorists and extremists, betrays our ideals and ultimately makes us weaker.   It is a stupid, ridiculous, and counterproductive approach to a problem.

This argument is the liberal argument.  This is what distinguishes liberals from conservatives in this space.   The liberal argument isn’t that we have an extensive, unaccountable security state and feel really bad about it (while the conservative argument is that we cheerlead it), it’s that this kind of state is a bad deal.  The machine Cheney et al were operating in the dark, away from any oversight gave us no useful intelligence, corrupted offices, people and practices, and left us less safe than had we not done anything.   This is the argument I find convincing.  That Obama campaigned as the constitutional law professor from Chicago who could push back on the 8-year power grab was one reason I found him so compelling as a candidate.

P.J. Crowley has a distinguished career, retiring from the Air Force as a Colonel, and it’s good to see him stand by his statement after resigning. When I combine things like this with the administration’s aggressive war on whistleblowers it makes me think this has been a complete disaster at reform in the security-surveillance state.   What can be done about this?

Three related: 1. Kudos to the people who cover this material. Glenn Greenwald, FDL, Adam Serwer, etc. I can link to an unemployment number to tell you what you already know – things are bad in the economy. That Obama has an aggressive war on whistleblowers when he campaigned to expand their protections is a tough narrative to establish, especially since everyone has wanted to believe otherwise in the liberal space.

2. Emptywheel has a post about the Brothers Daley and torture, relating Bill Daley’s comment – “he’s done” – to the sordid history of Richard Daley’s time as a prosecutor and Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge’s torture of African-American residents of Chicago during interrogations. I’ve talked with people who know the Burge situation well from Chicago, and when I ask how could it happen I always get some variety of “that’s how things were done back then.” I worry that a “that’s how things are done” is taking to the surveillance state now that Obama hasn’t broke it but instead established and, in some cases, expanded it.

3. Robert Chlala at Jadaliyya has a post – Of Predators and Radicals: King’s Hearings and the Political Economy of Criminalization – that gives a disturbing look at where all this can go. Discussing “From Super Predator to Predator Drone” Chlala argues that the current work done on Muslim so-called radicalization in America looks very similar to the African-American “youth gang” hysteria of the 1990s, an argument that lead to a massive expansion of the incarceration state along with a political ideology of making “state violence the only solution to social questions…while nurturing a broader racialized political economy of fear that entwines media, police, military, prisons, urban “entrepreneurs,” and security/crime “experts” towards the solidification of the neoliberal punitive state.” We’ve seen where this hysteria leads. Serious leadership and mechanisms for accountability when it fails is needed.

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2 Responses to P.J. Crowley Forced to Resign After Condemning Manning Treatment

  1. Not only kudos to the bloggers you mentioned who have spent hours and months drawing attention to Obama’s despicable civil liberties record, but shame on those who have either ignored or downplayed those abuses. It’s one thing for a “lay person” who voted for Obama and is disappointed in his actions to do this, it’s somewhat understandable, but there are a LOT of professional bloggers and media figures who have made the conscious decision to limit the time they spend covering it because they realize it makes their POTUS look bad. Lots of these professionals were constantly up in arms about these abuses during the Bush admin, but have changed the tone they use (or time they devote) to some of the exact same policies simply because they don’t want to bite the hand that feeds them.

    If McCain were president and had handled the Manning episode in the exact same manner, you would see a very different stance taken by many well known figures and bloggers, who would use the event to attack and discredit him. But since they play for team Democrat (and in the big picture are paid to do so), when Obama does it… they aren’t so offended by the same abuses of human rights, and would rather talk about other issues.

  2. Bruce C. says:

    I wish I could understand why Obama’s turnabout on civil liberties happened. Was his campaign so cynical as to campaign on the civil liberties issue and then once he had the power, hold onto it as tightly as possible? Or was he sold a bill of goods by the security establishment during the transition that convinced him that the surveillance/coercion state was actually necessary?

    Either way, I view the record on civil liberties as the Obama administration’s biggest f-up. Yes, Bradley Manning should be tried for his leaks, but “the treatment” is really unnecessary. I can only see it as a form of pre-trial hazing for breaking the code.

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