By Susan Cornwell
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley resigned on Sunday after reports that he labeled as "stupid" and "ridiculous" the Pentagon's treatment of a U.S. soldier accused of leaking secret documents that appeared on the WikiLeaks website.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement issued by the State Department that she accepted P.J. Crowley's resignation with "regret." He has served as the department's assistant secretary for public affairs and chief spokesman.
Crowley said in the statement he submitted his resignation "given the impact of my remarks, for which I take full responsibility." His resignation came two days after President Barack Obama was asked about Crowley's remarks during a televised news conference.
A BBC correspondent reported last week that Crowley, a retired Air Force colonel, told a small audience at a university in Massachusetts the treatment of jailed former intelligence analyst Bradley Manning "is ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid."
Manning, 23, is being held at a Marine base in Virginia during the investigation of charges involving documents he is accused of leaking while posted in Iraq. His lawyers have complained that he is being mistreated at the Marine brig.
Kept alone in his cell 23 hours per day, the Pentagon has said Manning has been forced to sleep naked and is awakened repeatedly during the night to ensure he is safe.
The publication on the WikiLeaks website of the documents Manning is accused of leaking was a blow to U.S. diplomacy, as allies and adversaries saw themselves mocked or second-guessed in secret diplomatic cables.
In his statement on Sunday, Crowley said the unauthorized disclosure of classified information was a "serious crime under U.S. law."
"My recent comments regarding the conditions of the pre-trial detention of Private First Class Bradley Manning 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," Crowley said.
"The exercise of power in today's challenging times and relentless media environment must be prudent and consistent with our laws and values," Crowley said.
Obama said on Friday he has been assured by the Pentagon that its treatment of Manning was appropriate.
Asked at a news conference about Crowley's remarks, Obama said Manning's treatment reflects the Department of Defense's concerns about the young soldier's safety.
The United States has come under criticism for years over its treatment of detainees, including foreign terrorism suspects held at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and prisoners held in Iraq and Afghanistan. U.S. officials have defended the imprisonment conditions as appropriate.
Crowley had served as State Department spokesman since May 2009. During the Clinton administration, Crowley was Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs.
Earlier, he was Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs. He served in the Air Force for 26 years, retiring at the rank of colonel in September 1999, and is a veteran of the 1991 Gulf War in which Iraqi forces were driven out of Kuwait by a U.S.-led coalition.
Clinton said Michael Hammer, who had been Crowley's deputy, will serve as acting spokesman. She also said Crowley had served the United States "with distinction" for over three decades "and I wish him the very best."
(Reporting by Susan Cornwell; editing by John Whitesides)