Senate Urged to Reject Trump's Pick of Bush-Era Torture Advocate to Be Human Rights Official at State Department

Human rights advocates are urging senators to block the advancement of Marshall Billingslea, President Donald Trump’s pick to be the executive branch’s top human rights official,citing his record as a torture advocate under the George W. Bush administration.

“I realize that absolutely no one in the world would expect anything else from Trump, but still, having your human rights guy be a supporter of torture?” tweeted Andrew Stroehlein, Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) European media director Monday. “That’s a step beyond.”

Billingslea, who is currently assistant secretary for terrorist financing at the Treasury Department, would serve as Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights at the State Department.

He faced a hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee earlier this month over Democrats’ opposition because they lacked “basic vetting information.”

“There has been ample evidence that Mr. Billingslea encouraged the use of interrogation methods that amount to torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment while he served in the Bush administration,” said Daphne Eviatar, director of Security with Human Rights at Amnesty International USA, the day of the committee hearing. “This makes a mockery of that important position.”

In a piece published Friday at The Progressive, HRW’s Elisa Epstein and Andrea Prasow laid out a number of their concerns with the nomination.

“Billingslea, in his testimony before the Foreign Relations Committee on Sept. 19, falsely contended that torture was not illegal until the McCain-Feinstein amendment passed” in 2015, Epstein and Prasow wrote. That assertion, they added, also disregards the Universal Declaration of Human Rights prohibition on torture and cruel treatment.

“The treatment of detainees held by the United States in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay, and elsewhere violated a range of laws,” they continued, “including prohibitions on torture, assault, sexual abuse, kidnapping, homicide, and war crimes.”

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That background drove a number of human rights organizations to write to senators ahead of the Senate committee hearing to urge them to reject Billingslea. They wrote, in part:

The ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), spoke to Billingslea’s background, telling the committee that “a fulsome and accurate understanding of his involvement in detainee torture matters is both essential and directly relevant to his current nomination.” Yet, said Menendez, the Trump administration has stonewalled.

“It took the administration months to dig up memos that Mr. Billingslea authored or approved on torture,” said Menendez. “Despite repeated requests, the administration has not shared how many documents are ‘missing’ or the titles of those documents; and they have refused to provide any information on how they searched for the ‘missing’ documents.”

“Instead, in effect, they said ‘trust us.’ Well, I’m sorry but ‘trust us’ does not cut it when it comes to ‘missing’ torture documents,” Menendez continued, “and it doesn’t cut it when it comes to this administration and its propensity for obfuscation and lies.”


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