Human Rights First Statement on Appointment of U.S. Official Linked to Post-9/11 Torture

With Appointment as Envoy for Arms, Trump Administration Admits Defeat for Top Human Rights Post for Marshall Billingslea

Washington, D.C.On April 10, 2020, President Trump announced his intent to appoint Marshall Billingslea to the position of Special Presidential Envoy for Arms Control at the Department of State – a post that does not require Senate confirmation. While this new appointment will likely face opposition, it marks a clear end to Billingslea’s bid for the top human rights policy position at the State Department.

In January 2019, President Trump nominated Billingslea for the position of Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights, which is the top executive position directly responsible for human rights policy. As an official in the George W. Bush administration, Billingslea was responsible for developing and advocating for unlawful interrogation practices, including several that constitute torture. On this basis, Human Rights First opposed his nomination. As Senator Bob Menendez, ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, noted on April 10, this was an “unsuccessful nomination.”

“Human Rights First applauds the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for not advancing Billingslea’s nomination for the human rights role,” said Benjamin Haas, advocacy counsel at Human Rights First. “We are glad to see that calling attention to Billingslea’s record has prevented a torture proponent from being in charge of U.S. human rights policy.”

Billingslea’s well-documented record of promoting torture is disqualifying for any position of this stature, but it was particularly concerning that if confirmed, Billingslea would have been entrusted with the responsibility to credibly promote human rights abroad on behalf of the United States.

In light of Billingslea’s unsuccessful nomination to lead human rights policy at the State Department, retired Major General Thomas Romig, who served as the Judge Advocate General of the U.S. Army, provided the following statement:

“Torture is immoral, illegal, and counterproductive, and Billingslea’s involvement in promoting it made him an especially ill-suited pick to be the United States’ chief human rights proponent. I am pleased that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee took a stand against this nomination. By blocking it, the Committee sent a strong message that it will impose political consequences upon those who are responsible for or support torture. Others who were involved in the Bush-era torture program—and those who may consider torture in the future—should take note of this development.”

As part of its campaign to defeat this nomination, Human Rights First organized a letter signed by 21 groups opposing the nomination. For more information on Billingslea’s record of advocating for torture, please see the following resources:

  • Human Rights First fact sheet
  • Politico op-ed by Rob Berschinski, Senior Vice President for Policy, and Benjamin Haas, Advocacy Counsel
  • Washington Post article covering the controversy surrounding Billingslea’s nomination

Published on April 13, 2020


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