State Department spokesman Philip "PJ" Crowley resigned Sunday following comments last week criticizing the Pentagon's controversial treatment of WikiLeaks suspect Private First Class Bradley Manning as "ridiculous, counterproductive and stupid."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Sunday she accepted Crowley's resignation with regret.
"PJ has served our nation with distinction for more than three decades, in uniform and as a civilian," Clinton said in a statement Sunday.
Former National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer, a career Foreign Service officer who moved to the State Department in January, will serve as acting State Department spokesman, Clinton said.
Crowley had already been expected to leave the State Department shortly and Hammer to replace him in the acting capacity. But Crowley's comments about the treatment of Manning seem to have accelerated his departure.
"I spent 26 years in the Air Force. What is happening to Manning is ridiculous, counterproductive and stupid, and I don't know why the DoD is doing it," Crowley told an MIT university audience Thursday, according to Ethan Zuckerman, who attended the talk. "Nevertheless, Manning is in the right place."
Crowley, a former Clinton-era National Security Council and Pentagon spokesman, is well-regarded and considered an honest-broker and professional by the reporters who work with him at the State Department. A career Air Force officer and veteran of Operation Desert Storm who retired at the rank of colonel, Crowley has worn the uniform longer than any other senior Obama administration appointee, and his father was a prisoner of war during World War II, according to White House reporter April Ryan.
But some have observed that he has not been traveling as much with Clinton in the past year as he used to, and that he's sometimes been shut out of key meetings by her insular team, many of whom worked with Clinton on her 2008 presidential primary campaign.
In the end, however, the Obama White House wound up speeding Crowley's departure, after President Barack Obama seemed irritated when reporters queried him about Crowley's comments at a news conference Friday. Human-rights advocates have decried the recent revelation that Manning's captors at the Quantico Marine Corps holding brig are keeping him in solitary confinement for 23 hours while forcing him to be naked every night. The Pentagon has defended Manning's treatment as necessary to prevent the WikiLeaks suspect from attempting suicide.
Obama didn't directly mention Crowley's comments in his remarks, but said he'd asked the Pentagon about Manning's treatment, and been assured it was appropriate.
Crowley, for his part, offered words of respect and gratitude to President Obama, Secretary Clinton and his State Department colleagues in his resignation statement Sunday.
"I am enormously grateful to President Obama and Secretary Clinton for the high honor of once again serving the American people," Crowley said in a statement. "I leave with great admiration and affection for my State colleagues, who promote our national interest both on the front lines and in the quiet corners of the world."
Some from the foreign policy press corps had previously speculated that Crowley might return to the Center for American Progress, the liberal think tank where he previously served as a senior national security fellow, but his plans weren't immediately clear.
In January, Crowley gave a speech at the Center for American Progress that was critical of WikiLeaks' release of thousands of U.S. diplomatic cables. "WikiLeaks is about the unauthorized disclosure of classified information: It is not an exercise in Internet freedom," he said.
On Sunday, however, commentators from across the political spectrum -- including WikiLeaks -- expressed admiration for Crowley and criticism of Obama for pushing out an aide for telling the truth about his dismay at Manning's treatment.
"We admire Mr Crowley, formerly of the US State Department, for speaking up for Bradley Manning," WikiLeaks said in a tweet.
"By firing PJ Crowley for the offense of protesting against the sadistic military treatment of Bradley Manning, the president has now put his personal weight behind prisoner abuse," journalist Andrew Sullivan wrote Sunday at his Atlantic blog. "The man who once said that forced nudity was a form of torture, now takes the word of those enforcing it over a distinguished public servant."
(State Department spokesman PJ Crowley resigned Sunday after making comments to a university audience last week critical of the Pentagon's treatment of WikiLeaks suspect Bradley Manning. Nicholas Kamm, AFP/Getty images.)