Former State Department Spokesman: 'Manning Acquittal of Aiding the Enemy Right Verdict'

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Carol Hills: PJ Crowley was State Department spokesman until two years ago. He resigned after publicly criticizing the way Private Manning was being treated while in detention. PJ Crowley, what's your reaction to today's verdict?

PJ Crowley: I think it is the right verdict. Obviously, Bradley Manning earlier this year in a statement before the court had admitted to a wide range of charges that carry sentence up to 20 years. He obviously will spend a considerable length of time in prison. But I thought the charge of aiding the enemy was prosecutorial overreach and was appropriate for the judge to reject it.

Hills: What sort of precedent does this set?

Crowley: That perhaps was part of what motivated the judge in this case. Obviously whatever verdict was reached in the Manning case has potential implications in terms of ongoing investigations regarding Edward Snowden, regarding other cases, where for example, someone within government had provided sensitive information regarding a cyber attack against Iran's nuclear infrastructure. So I think this narrows the potential that what happened in the Manning case will be applied to other cases.

Hills: Remind us what were the most important revelations in these leaks?

Crowley: Oh, what set the Manning case apart from other instances, I mean obviously the government has confronted leaks going back to the beginning of the republic…what set Manning's case apart was the scope and scale. We're talking about hundreds of thousands of documents that literally touched on every relationship the United States had with other governments around the world. Normally, a leak is about one issue, one country, and it works its way through the system. Obviously in the case of Wikileaks, because you now have hundreds of thousands of documents that are on the internet, they live forever and they will become wallpaper in terms of, of journalistic reporting for many years to come.

Hills: What was the closest thing there was to a bombshell in the documents he released?

Crowley: I think ironically most people have looked at many of the documents and say it added texture and depth to our understanding of how diplomacy and war work, but didn't necessarily fundamentally change anything. At the state department, our primary concern was because these diplomatic cables, for example, detailed conversations that activists, government, officials had around the world, that it literally did in fact put their careers and potentially their lives in danger. And that's the most significant thing that Bradley Manning did. Real people around the world trying to help the United States understand the world remain in jeopardy because he released these documents.

Hills: Now, the prosecution pushed hard but did not get the charge of aiding the enemy. Why do you think she did not rule in that favor?

Crowley: The civilian justice system is about removing from the community someone who poses a danger to it. The military justice system is about reinforcing good order and discipline. To say, you know, to people in the ranks, you have responsibilities, you have to meet those responsibilities, and if you fail to do so there will be consequences, I think that a shorter sentence is able to send that message clearly, but obviously, a potential life sentence I think would have not only grave implications inside the United States, but obviously this is a case that has been watched by many people around the world, particularly in Europe. And that would complicate the ability of the United States and other countries to cooperate in fighting terrorism around the world.

Hills: PJ Crowley, you were the administration's main spokesman on the Wikileaks cable release in the fall of 2010. You stepped down after calling Manning's treatment in detention ridiculous, counterproductive and stupid. At this point would the verdict being released, how are you feeling? Have things come full circle for you?

Crowley: Clearly in my view Bradley Manning violated his oath of office and his duty as a soldier in the United States military, but the Bradley Manning case had larger implication. Obviously, the United States has had its own challenges in terms of how it has treated detainees, whether Guantanamo or other locations. I thought at the time the last thing the United States needed was another case of perceived mistreatment, in this case, one of our own citizens, but I believed in this prosecution. I think it was important, you know, that it has proceeded. I was concerned that his treatment would undercut the credibility of a necessary prosecution. I'm delighted that the judge has kept you know, the charge with the context of his stated violation of his responsibilities as a soldier and has guarded against this overreach, so I think at the end of the day many, but not all, will see this as an appropriate and credible sentence.

Hills: PJ Crowley is the former assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs. He currently teaches at George Washington University. Thank you so much.

Crowley: Thank you.