That letter led to landmark anti-torture legislation, the Detainee Treatment Act, sponsored by Senator McCain and passed by the Senate in an overwhelming show of bipartisan support with a vote of 90-9. Fishback was recognized as one of TIME Magazine’s most 100 influential people of 2006 for his role in procuring the legislation.
One of the nine senators who voted against the Detainee Treatment Act was Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL).
Today, now-former Major Fishback submitted a statement for the record to the Senate Judiciary Committee for the confirmation hearing of Senator Sessions, whom President-elect Trump has nominated for Attorney General.
As noted in Major Fishback’s statement, in addition to Senator Sessions’ vote against the Detainee Treatment Act, Sessions has spoken in favor of waterboarding and was one of only 21 senators to vote against the McCain-Feinstein anti-torture amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for the fiscal year 2016.
Calling Senator Sessions’ record on the humane treatment of detainees in U.S. custody “deeply concerning,” Major Fishback reiterated that the torture and abuse of detainees he had witnessed was clearly prohibited by the Geneva Conventions—the basis of the laws of war—which he was trained on at West Point. Fishback noted that such cruel treatment was “un-American, immoral, and illegal.”
Despite his record, Senator Sessions’ responses in today’s hearing seemed to demonstrate that if confirmed at Attorney General, Sessions would enforce the detainee treatment laws he voted against. Responding to a question on waterboarding from Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Sessions said that “Congress has taken an action now that makes it absolutely improper and illegal to use waterboarding or any other form of torture in the United States by our military and by all our other departments and agencies.”
If confirmed, Senator Sessions should stay true to his word.
Contrary to President-elect Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric on the campaign trail, professional interrogators agree that torture is an ineffective means of obtaining actionable intelligence. This sentiment is reportedly shared by General James Mattis, Trump’s choice for Secretary of Defense and 176 retired admirals and generals, who last week said that torture “undermines our national security” and “violates our core values as a nation.”
As Major Fishback said in his statement today, those values are what he fought for as a soldier in Iraq and Afghanistan. They “have shaped this nation and positioned it as a global leader on human rights and the rule of law.” And they remain “our most powerful weapon in the fight against terrorists.”