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Thu Sep 19, 2019, 08:05 AM

Trump Wants a Torture Proponent to Lead U.S. Human Rights Policy. The Senate Should Say No

Leave it to Trump to pick the vile sleezeballs!

Trump Wants a Torture Proponent to Lead U.S. Human Rights Policy. The Senate Should Say No



September 17, 2019

Rob Berschinski is senior vice president for policy at Human Rights First. Previously, he was deputy assistant secretary of State for democracy, human rights, and labor, and an intelligence officer in the U.S. Air Force.

Benjamin Haas is advocacy counsel at Human Rights First. Previously, he was an intelligence officer in the U.S. Army.

Donald Trump has made no secret of his penchant for torture. It was, of course, a feature of his 2016 campaign. And while former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and other senior foreign policy appointees have rejected the practice as unlawful and inappropriate, Trump has repeatedly nominated figures involved in or supportive of Bush-era torture for positions in both his administration and the federal judiciary.

Now, the president has nominated yet another official with a pro-torture background—Marshall Billingslea, who serves as assistant Treasury secretary for terrorist financing. This time, however, the nomination contains a particularly searing irony. If confirmed, Billingslea would become the top U.S. executive branch official directly responsible for human rights policy: undersecretary of State for civilian security, democracy and human rights.

Billingslea’s involvement in Bush-era torture should be disqualifying. It renders him incapable of effectively performing the important human rights work of the post for which he is being considered. And yet his nomination hearing is scheduled for Thursday. That the Senate Foreign Relations Committee would even consider Billingslea’s nomination highlights today’s low standard for Trump administration nominees. Given Billingslea’s record, hisnomination should not advance to a full Senate vote after his hearing. And if it does, senators should vote against his confirmation.

Billingslea’s history promoting torture is well-documented. As a senior Pentagon official during the Bush administration, he advocated for the use of torture techniques, often in contrast to the sound advice proffered by top military lawyers. According to Major General Thomas Romig, who at the time was the Army’s judge advocate general, Billingslea dismissed Romig’s protests against the use of torture. “Guys, it’s time to wake up and smell the coffee. It’s time to take the gloves off,” Romig recounted Billingslea saying. Romig, who knew torture was illegal and could expose U.S. service members to criminal prosecution, responded, "Do you realize the implications of what you're saying?”


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