Crowley spoke to a group of about 20 people at the Center for Future Civic Media at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the BBC reported. He responded to a question from a young man who asked about the "torture" of Pfc. Bradley Manning, who was an intelligence analyst with access to top secret documents. Manning's lawyer, David E. Coombs, says Manning is being treated punitively by being kept on a suicide watch, confined to his cell for 23 hours a day and deprived of his clothing.
While he did not use the word "torture" himself, Crowley was harshly critical of the Defense Department. Philippa Thomas, a BBC correspondent now on a fellowship at Harvard, was in the room and quoted him on her personal blog as calling Manning's treatment "ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid."
Asked about the comments during a news conference Friday, President Obama said, "I have actually asked the Pentagon whether or not the procedures that have been taken in terms of his confinement are appropriate and are meeting our basic standards. They assured me that they are."
Obama said he couldn't go into some of the concerns "but some of this has to do with Private Manning's safety."
Crowley did say the brig at Quantico is the "right place" for Manning. He said there is sometimes a need for secrecy.
One of WikiLeaks' biggest scoops was obtaining thousands of U.S. diplomatic cables. Manning is suspected of leaking military documents from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the diplomatic cables.
Manning faces a long list of charges, including aiding the enemy. That can be a capital crime although the military says it will not seek the death penalty.