Richard Spenser, Donald Trump, and Marshall Billingslea

Marshall Billingslea

Much of the attention surrounding President Trump’s ouster of Navy Secretary Richard Spenser has focused on Trump’s disregard for the order and discipline that Special Operations and other military forces must respect.

We have a different optic.

Navy SEAL Edward Gallagher’s demotion for having posed for photographs with the corpse of a dead ISIS fighter — an action that clearly violates military rules and the laws of war — strikes us as reasonable.  But Gallagher’s photo also refreshes the outrage surrounding the Bush Administration’s humiliation of Abu Ghraib prisoners — and Trump’s dismissal of that action, in turn, further underscores his lack of moral compass on the question of war crimes.

This is a man, after all, who had no qualms about nominating Gina Haspell — involved directly in CIA “secret prison” torture during that period — to serve as CIA Director.  And Marshall Billingslea — now awaiting confirmation to serve as the Trump State Department’s Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights — is credibly reported to have pressed for even more abusive measures to be used against ISIS prisoners than those that already have brought international opprobrium to the United States.

The President’s forgiving attitude toward U.S. officials arguably complicit in war crimes makes it hard to hold others accountable — e.g., those responsible for the humiliations and murders of LGBT Chechens.  It cheapens our country and abandons our human rights leadership capacity.

Before the Senate acts on the Billingslea nomination, his Senate supporters might take time to watch “The Report” — a recent movie that chillingly explores efforts by two U.S. Administrations to hide the shameful human rights abuses committed by the United States in the aftermath of the 2001 World Trade Center bombings.

Mr. Billingslea’s support for those abuses — and his reported advocacy of other, even more stringent “enhanced interrogation” war crimes — make him unfit to serve, with any credibility, as our country’s senior-most human rights-dedicated official.

We again urge the Senate to send Billingslea’s nomination back to the White House.  And as for President Trump, a little history lesson is overdue — and with it, perhaps some training on moral leadership.

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