State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley quit on Sunday after causing a stir by describing the military's treatment of the suspected WikiLeaks leaker as "ridiculous" and "stupid," pointed words that forced President Barack Obama to defend the detention as appropriate.
"Given the impact of my remarks, for which I take full responsibility, I have submitted my resignation" to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, according to a department statement attributed to the office of the spokesman.
Crowley's comments about the conditions for Pfc. Bradley Manning at a Marine Corps brig in Quantico, Virginia, reverberated quickly, from the small audience in Massachusetts where Crowley spoke to a White House news conference Friday where Obama weighed in about the 23-year-old soldier believed responsible for the largest leak of classified American documents ever.
Manning is being held in solitary confinement for all but an hour every day, and is stripped naked each night and given a suicide-proof smock to wear to bed. His lawyer calls the treatment degrading. Amnesty International says it may violate Manning's human rights.
Crowley was quoted as saying in Massachusetts that he didn't understand why the military was handling Manning's detention that way, and calling it "ridiculous, counterproductive and stupid." Crowley also said "Manning is in the right place" in military detention.
Obama said Friday that he asked the Pentagon whether the confinement conditions were appropriate and whether they met basic standards. "They assure me that they are," the president said. He declined to elaborate when pressed on whether he disagreed with Crowley's assessment.
Crowley's resignation statement said that his comments about Manning's pre-trial detention "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."
Clinton said Crowley's service was "motivated by a deep devotion to public policy and public diplomacy."
Manning was charged in July with mishandling and leaking classified data and putting national security at risk in connection with the release of a military video of an attack on unarmed men in Iraq.
In early March, the Army filed 22 new charges, including aiding the enemy, a crime that can bring the death penalty or life in prison.
The charges involve the suspected distribution by the military analyst of more than 250,000 confidential State Department cables as well as a raft of Iraq and Afghanistan war logs. Thousands of the documents have been published on the website of the anti-secrecy group.
Although aiding the enemy is a capital offense under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, Army prosecutors have notified the Manning defense team that it will not recommend the death penalty to the two-star general who is in charge of proceeding with legal action.
The release of the State Department cables was denounced by U.S. officials, saying it put countless lives at risk, revealing the identities of people working secretly with the U.S. It also sent shudders through the diplomatic community, as the cables revealed often embarrassing descriptions and assessments of foreign leaders, potentially jeopardizing U.S. relations with its allies.
While thousands of the cables have been released, the bulk of those downloaded have not been made public.
Trial proceedings against Manning have been on hold since July, pending the results of a medical inquiry into Manning's mental capacity and responsibility.