Press coverage this morning focused on Donald Trump’s selection of Robert O’Brien as new national security adviser, replacing John Bolton. O’Brien, until now Trump’s Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, is perhaps best known for a recent trip to Sweden to press the government there to release rapper A$AP Rocky on assault charges. O’Brien reportedly intervened at after Kanye West and Kim Kardashian asked Trump for help.
O’Brien appears to be a non-entity with little experience and was likely picked because he’ll do what he’s told. There were certainly worse options, especially Fred Fleitz of the right-wing Center for Security Policy and who served briefly as Bolton’s chief of staff. He’s a Fox News favorite and had been actively lobbying for the job.
Meanwhile, nomination hearings for Marshall Billingslea to be undersecretary of State for civilian security, democracy and human rights are set for tomorrow. It’s hard to imagine a worse pick for the post, which directly oversees human rights policy, but his nomination has attracted scant attention.
Here’s a section of a letter a score of NGOs sent the senate opposing Billingslea’s nomination:
According to a bipartisan report on detainee treatment unanimously adopted by the Senate Armed Services Committee, Mr. Billingslea encouraged the use of interrogation methods that amounted to torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment while he served…Under Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld during the administration of President George W. Bush.
To support their use, Billingslea falsely claimed, in a memo addressed to the Secretary of Defense, that a defense department working group, of which he was a member, “endorsed” the use of a number of techniques amounting to torture or other ill-treatment. In fact, the working group report included senior civilian and military lawyers who opposed torture, and the final report had been completed without the knowledge of the working group’s dissenting members.
Mr. Billingslea also pushed for additional torture techniques to be used on a specific detainee, Mohamedou Ould Slahi. Slahi was a Mauritanian man detained at the Guantánamo Bay detention camp without charge from 2002 until his release on October 17, 2016. According to the SASC report, Mr. Billingslea forwarded a memo notifying Secretary Rumsfeld that JTF- GTMO intended to isolate Slahi and recommending that he approve the use of “sleep deprivation” and “sound modulation at decibel levels not harmful to hearing,” both of which amount to a breach of the absolute prohibition on torture and other ill-treatment. Secretary Rumsfeld approved the techniques, which were subsequently used on Slahi. In 2004, the Marine officer charged with prosecuting Slahi in a military commission determined that statements elicited from Slahi were obtained under torture and resigned his position so as not to participate in the proceedings.
Two years ago, the Senate confirmed Billingslea as the assistant Treasury secretary for terrorist financing tracking. Nearly two-thirds of the senate voted to confirm him them, including 12 Democrats, so the chances of his being shot down this time appear to be remote,