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PJ Crowley talks to BBC Hardtalk – full transcript


Ex-US state department spokesman PJ Crowley, who quit after criticising the treatment of the man accused of leaking secret cables to Wikileaks, has told BBC World News he has no regrets.

He resigned under heavy political pressure after describing the Pentagon’s treatment of Bradley Manning as “ridiculous, counterproductive and stupid” – as reported on this blog.
Talking for the first time in an exclusive interview with HARDtalk’s Stephen Sackur, PJ Crowley said that the treatment of Bradley Manning was undermining “a very legitimate” effort to prosecute him.

The following are key quotes from the full interview with PJ Crowley.

    Please credit HARDtalk on BBC World News:


PJ Crowley — Any political appointee serves at the pleasure of the president and I had the honour to do that. At the same time I did express my views. I believe what I said. I thought the treatment of Bradley Manning was undermining what I considered to be a very legitimate prosecution of an individual who has profoundly affected US national security.

Stephen Sackur — But you seemed to go further than that. In your choice of words you seemed to be suggesting that there was – in your view – some kind of impact in the US’s global standing in the way it was treating this suspected soldier Bradley Manning.

PJC — Well, I’m a believer in something like strategic narratives. That the United Sates, as an exceptional country in the world, has to be seen as practicing what we preach. I was asked at an academic seminar why the United States was torturing Bradley Manning. The United States is doing no such thing, but I understand why the question was asked. I thought the treatment of Bradley Manning – the fact that he had to sleep naked and stand in a jail cell naked was counter productive to our broader effort of appropriately prosecuting someone who has violated his oath of office.

SS — You realised that this was going to cause a storm inside the Obama administration.

PJC — Well, I realised that I was challenging another agency of government. Quite honestly I didn’t necessarily think the controversy would go as far as it did but I don’t regret saying what I said.

SS– In saying to me you didn’t think it would go as far as it did, does that mean that you do not believe yourself what you said is the kind of thing that should have called into question your continuation in government service?

PJC — Well, it doesn’t matter what I think. Obviously it created a controversy and I felt that in light of that the appropriate thing for me to do was to resign from office.

SS- But it’s important to get this sequence of events straight. As soon as it became public what you said about the stupidity, the counter activity of the policy on Bradley Manning, did you get a call from Hillary Clinton? Did she immediately make her own personal displeasure known?

PJC — No. What happened was simply when it became public I clarified that the comments were my own personal views and do not reflect US policy. But as the day went on and the matter became one for the president, I felt that my actions put the president in a difficult position. I felt that the only appropriate thing for me to do was resign.

SS — You felt it or the White House felt it?

PJC– Well, I’ll leave it to the White House to describe their reaction. I recognised that given the controversy as it developed, it was appropriate for me to step down.

SS — But isn’t it true that it became appropriate for you to step down because the White House made it clear that they would like you to step down?

PJC — Well, as a political appointee, I served at the pleasure of the president and in a case where I have lost the confidence of the White House, this was the appropriate step for me to take.

SS– How did you know you’d lost the confidence of the White House? Who talked to you?

PJC — Again, I’m not going to talk about privileged conversations other than to say that as the day went on, I took the initiative to resign from office.

SS — It wasn’t Hillary Clinton though…I mean, I suppose it’s important to establish that it was the White House and not your own boss at the State Department who decided that your position was untenable.

PJC — Well, again, I’ll not get into private conversations that I had during the course of the day but I understood the reaction that my comments had caused and at that point I felt it was appropriate and necessary for me to step down so the administration could move on.

SS– Did you feel that your career at the State Department was perhaps in jeopardy anyway? I’ve spoken to one senior official who suggested to me that you were not regarded with high favour by the White House and that was one reason they put in as your number two a former spokesman inside the White House for the National Security Council. Did you have that sense?

PJC — Well, not at all. Mike Hammer who is the Acting Assistant Secretary succeeding me is a long time friend. We worked on the National Security Council staff in the late 1990’s and in fact I was the one that recruited him to come in. As the Assistant Secretary and Spokesman I’ve got a variety of responsibilities and one is to manage a very large two hundred person bureau. I had not had a Principal Deputy – as we call it – within the Department of State for my almost two years in office and I had been steadily trying to fill that vacancy and eventually after weeks – if not months of discussion – Mike agreed to come over and return. He is a career foreign service officer so he was coming back to his host agency.

SS — A final thought on Bradley Manning. The president in response to questions prompted by your comments said that he’d asked the Pentagon if the confinement of Mr Manning were appropriate and the president said “the Pentagon assured me they were”. That clearly was good enough for him but the fact is that Bradley Manning is still locked up in solitary confinement, as we understand it for 23 hours a day, he is in his cell as we understand it required to sleep pretty much naked and is still on this prevention of injury order. How do you feel about the president saying he is comfortable with all of that?

PJC — Again, I can only offer you my view , which is that it is one thing that actions can be legal and it is another thing that actions can be smart. I do think that the prosecution of Bradley Manning is legitimate and necessary. The release of 251 thousand cables has damaged US interests around the world and more importantly has put the lives of activists who help us understand what’s going on around the world in jeopardy, but I felt his treatment undermines the credibility of the ongoing investigation and prosecution. I spoke my mind and I haven’t changed my view.


SS: Right now, the ‘rebel forces’ are making ground across swathes of Libyan territory precisely because NATO bombers are destroying Gadaffi’s ability to fight, that’s the reality, so in the end if Gadaffi’s regime topples it will have been delivered by NATO now that’s not something that MR Obama or indeed you in your former job seem to contemplate, it was supposed to be very different.

PJC : Well again, I would certainly contract what is happening in Libyan with the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, they’re of a totally different magnitude and totally different purpose. There’s no question that in protecting civilians you are also protecting political opposition, you are creating a level playing field so that the opposition has a fair opportunity to make it’s case to the Libyan people and to force Gaddafi to step down.”


SS: Now that you’re fresh out of government, are you able to perhaps acknowledge that there is a real double standard at play in the US’ reaction to events in the Middle East, for example the US has welcomed generally the end to autocracy as seen in Egypt and Tunisia, the end of oppression the spread of democracy but clearly in certain instances, thinking for example of Bahrain, the US does not want to see the end of current oppressive regimes, does it?

PJC: Well again, the ultimate resolution here will be country by country Certainly the United Sates has been very forceful in communicating to the Monarchy in Bahrain that is has to find ways to respond to the aspirations of all Bahraini citizens, including those of the Shia faith who actually constitute the majority of the population in Bahrain. What the United States has said consistently across the board is we are not going to try and impose a particular solution from the outside. We certainly have said very clearly that across the board from Yemen all the way to Algeria, there has to be fundamental political social economic reform. It’s imperative for the region to adapt and change as we are here in the 21st Century.

SS: Those words do remind me of an interview you gave at the end of January as the tumultuous events in Tahir square were playing out where time and time again you were asked whether you would condemn Hosni Mubarak for his repressive tactics, for using violence against his own people, and you consistently refused and you said that Mubarak and his government were ‘an anchor of stability’. It is this double standard I’m getting at. Obama has no problem saying that Gadaffi is unacceptable and has to go but when it came to Mubarak for a long time you wouldn’t say that, when it comes to the Bahraini regime you won’t say it, still less when it comes to the Saudis. You won’t aim any of your fire at their repressive regime, there is a fundamental double standard.
PJC: Not at all Stephen, again, one has to look at, this is an evolving situation and it’s by no means done yet. In fact one of the benefits of the intervention in Libya is to make sure that there is in fact going to continue to be what people are calling an Arab Spring.
PJC: Look, the real reality here was what Gaddafi response, perhaps based on what he saw in Tunisia and Egypt, is fundamentally different than any other response we’ve seen by any other leader in the region thus far he turned air force, he turned his military, he turned other assets against his people to forcefully put down, by major lethal force, an opposition. That is fundamentally different to what happened in Tunisia, it is fundamentally different to what happened in Egypt. And he crossed a number of red lines and the international community including the United States has responded appropriately.
We’ve sent a very clear message to other rulers in the region – you’ve got to reform and you’ve got to avoid using violence in the process of reforming.
SS: Right, but some regimes aren’t listening the Bahrainis after you gave that message to them initially killed 7 people around the Perle roundabout, they’ve since killed a substantial number of other protestors and they’ve also called in Saudi tanks but I didn’t hear the State Department making too many noise to suggest that was “unacceptable”.
PJC: Again, depending on the circumstance we deliver some messages in private, we deliver some messages in public. We certainly have not shied away from encouraging the monarchy in Bahrain to have a meaningful dialogue and to undergo fundamental reform.
Notes to editors:

You can watch the full HARDtalk interview on BBC World News at 20.30 GMT Monday, 28th March 2011.

Author: philippathomas

I've been a BBC newswoman for 30 years: reporting from around the world. Currently to be seen anchoring BBC World News TV. Main interests - politics, psychology, reading, trekking, and all things American. I began this personal blog as a 2011 Nieman Journalism Fellow at Harvard. You can also find me talking daily news on Twitter at @PhilippaBBC, coaching @positivecoachi3, and life & travel on Instagram at @philippanews. Thanks for reading!

7 thoughts on “PJ Crowley talks to BBC Hardtalk – full transcript

  1. Philippa,

    Thanks for the doing us all the incredible service of following this story and adding your colour-commentary as it develops.

    What I found most insightful about this interview was the repeated effort to extract from PJ Crowley the exact sequence of events by which he resigned.

    Though this was an acute case of a government official contradicting official lines, it points to the constraints placed on independent and intelligent people who happen to be working in contexts that seek the perfect alignment of personal and organizational beliefs.

    It is instructive to be reminded of the presence in the White House of the pervasive cultural norm that asks us to relinquish the privileges of a private citizen when personal opinions are not harmonious with our minders’.


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