President Donald Trump‘s decision to nominate an official involved in the Pentagon‘s post-9/11 use of harsh interrogation techniques to the State Department’s top human-rights post has sparked a standoff in the Senate that has extended a nearly three-year vacancy in a key diplomatic position.

Mr Trump’s nomination in January of Marshall Billingslea as undersecretary of state for civilian security, democracy and human rights raised immediate alarms among the activists and former government officials who believe his confirmation would send a dismal message about America’s commitment to human rights abroad.

A September confirmation hearing has intensified those concerns, with several officials accusing Mr Billingslea of improperly minimising his role in the interrogation debate inside of the George W Bush administration.

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From 2002 to 2003, Mr Billingslea served as the Pentagon’s point man on military detainees housed at Guantanamo Bay under defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld. In that position, according to a 2008 Senate report, he played a role in promoting interrogation techniques that congress later banned as torture – including the use of hoods or blindfolds, sleep deprivation, prolonged standing, the shaving of beards, the removal of clothing and the use of military dogs to intimidate detainees.

“To put it mildly, I believe that Mr Billingslea is one of the worst possible candidates for this critical senior leadership role overseeing human rights policy for the Department of State,” wrote Thomas Romig, a retired major general who at the time in question served as judge advocate general of the Army, in a recent letter to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

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World news in pictures

1/50 30 November 2019

A child holds a placard during a ‘drop dead’ flashmob protest against climate change consequences at Lumpini Park in Bangkok, Thailand

2/50 28 November 2019

Pro-democracy protesters hold an SOS sign and US national flags during a Thanksgiving rally in Edinburgh Place, Hong Kong. Protesters were thanking US President Donald Trump for signing into a law ‘The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act Hong Kong’, provoking an angry backlash from the Chinese government. Hong Kong is in its sixth month of mass protests, which were originally triggered by a now withdrawn extradition bill, and have since turned into a wider pro-democracy movement

3/50 27 November 2019

Rescuers with a dog search through the rubble of a collapsed building after an earthquake in Durres, western Albania

4/50 26 November 2019

A shepherd leads a flock of sheep on a pontoon bridge in Allahabad

5/50 25 November 2019

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspects a female company belonging to 5492 troops

6/50 24 November 2019

A protester jumps between burning tires during ongoing anti-government protests in Basra, Iraq

7/50 23 November 2019

Fans dressed as Star Wars characters during day three of the first Test between Australia and Pakistan at The Gabba in Australia

8/50 22 November 2019

Pope Francis speaks with religious leaders during a meeting at the Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand

9/50 21 November 2019

A girl injured in last night’s attack by the Syrian regime on a camp for displaced people near the Turkish border in Idlib, Syria is held up to the camera

10/50 20 November 2019

Indian paramilitary soldiers detain a Congress party supporter during a protest against the withdrawal of Special Protection Group (SPG) cover to party president Sonia Gandhi, her children and former prime minister Manmohan Singh, in New Delh. The move to lift off the SPG security, an elite force that protects prime ministers and their immediate families, led to sharp reactions from the Congress, which accused the government of personal vendetta

11/50 19 November 2019

An image taken from a plane window shows Sydney shrouded in smoke from nearby bush fires

12/50 18 November 2019

Protesters run for cover after riot police fired tear gas towards the bridge they were climbing down to the road below, to escape from Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Dozens escaped the besieged campus by lowering themselves on a rope from a footbridge to a highway. Once on the road they were seen being picked up by waiting motorcyclists

13/50 17 November 2019

Anti-government protesters draped in Iraqi national flags walk into clouds of smoke from burning tires during a demonstration in the southern city of Basra, Iraq

14/50 16 November 2019

A protester wearing a yellow jacket waves a French flag in a fountain during a demonstration to mark the first anniversary of the “yellow vests” movement in Nice, France

15/50 15 November 2019

A Palestinian protester uses a slingshot to return a tear gas canister fired by Israeli forces amid clashes following a weekly demonstration against the expropriation of Palestinian land by Israel in the village of Kfar Qaddum

16/50 14 November 2019

A patient suffering from dengue fever receives medical treatment at an isolation ward at a hospital in Larkana, Pakistan. According to local reports, 26 deaths have been reported out of a total of 10,013 confirmed cases of dengue infection. Dengue fever is reportedly caused by a specific type of mosquito, the Aedes mosquito, that bites only during daytime, especially during sunrise and sunset.

17/50 13 November 2019

An anti-government protester flashes the V-sign for victory in front of burning tyres used to block a main road at the entrance of Tripoli. The previous night, street protests erupted across Lebanon after President Michel Aoun defended the role of his allies, the Shiite movement Hezbollah, in Lebanon’s government, cutting off several major roads. In his televised address, Aoun proposed a government that includes both technocrats and politicians

18/50 12 November 2019

An Israeli missile launching from the Iron Dome defence missile system, designed to intercept and destroy incoming short-range rockets and artillery shells. They were sent up to intercept rockets launched from the nearby Palestinian Gaza Strip. Israel’s military killed a commander for Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad in a strike on his home, prompting retaliatory rocket fire and fears of a severe escalation in violence

19/50 11 November 2019

A species of deer thought to be extinct, the chevrotain, has been spotted for the first time in 30 years in the wilds of Vietnam. The deer is around the size of a domestic cat

20/50 10 November 2019

The royal motorcade of Japanese Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako, under tight security, passes through a street in Tokyo. Thousands of people gathered for the rare open-top car parade featuring the newly enthroned Emperor

21/50 9 November 2019

People knock over a mock-up of the former Berlin Wall during a performance prior to the German first division Bundesliga football match Hertha BSC Berlin v RB Leipzig on the 30 anniversary of the fall off the wall

22/50 8 November 2019

Flames from an out of control bushfire from a nearby residential area in Harrington, northeast of Sydney. Australian firefighters warned they were in “uncharted territory” as they struggled to contain dozens of out-of-control bushfires across the east of the country

23/50 7 November 2019

Demonstrators shine lasers during a protest against Chile’s government in Santiago, the capital

24/50 6 November 2019

Activists from India’s main opposition Congress party shout slogans as they are stopped by police during a protest against what the activists say is economic slowdown in the country, in Guwahati, India

25/50 5 November 2019

Smoke rises from a fire in downtown Lagos, Nigeria. Firefighters worked hard to try and extinguish a fire at the Balogun market. Thick black smoke and flames shot from the five-story buildings as fire trucks attempted to get access

26/50 4 November 2019

Women run down a sand dune as they take part in the desert trek “Rose Trip Maroc” in the erg Chebbi near Merzouga. It is a female-oriented trek where teams of three must travel through the southern Moroccan Sahara desert with a compass, a map and a topographical reporter

27/50 3 November 2019

Riot police descend an escalator inside the City Plaza mall in Hong Kong after a bloody knife fight wounded six people there. A local pro-democracy politician had his ear bitten off during another chaotic day of political unrest in the city

28/50 2 November 2019

People participate in the celebration of the ‘muerteadas de Jalapa del Valle’, as part of the Day of the Dead in Mexico

29/50 1 November 2019

Firefighters work to control flames from a backfire during the Maria fire in Santa Paula, California

30/50 31 October 2019

Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights, over the Vestrahorn mountain in the east of Iceland

31/50 30 October 2019

A model presents a creation at the show Heaven Gaia by Xiong Ying during the China Fashion Week in Beijing. The fashion event runs from 25 October to 2 November

32/50 29 October 2019

Hindu devotees collect rice as offerings on ‘Annakut’ or ‘Govardhan Puja’ festival at the Madan Mohan temple in Kolkata. People in large numbers gather at the temple to collect the rice offerings in the belief that it will keep them in good health and they’ll never face poverty or scarcity of food

33/50 28 October 2019

Authorities investigate after a Port Authority bus was caught in a sinkhole in downtown Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

34/50 27 October 2019

South Africa players celebrate after beating Wales in their Rugby World Cup semi-final match. The Springboks will face England in next Saturday’s final following fly-half Handre Pollard’s match-winning penalty four minutes from time. The match ended 19-16

35/50 26 October 2019

Participants from Thailand pose in front of the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall as they take part in the annual gay pride parade in Taipei. Some two hundred thousand revellers marched through Taipei in a riot of rainbow colours and celebration as Taiwan held its first pride parade since making history in Asia by legalising gay marriage

36/50 25 October 2019

A girl enjoys a ball bath as she is being photographed at the made-for-Instagram museum ‘Cali Dreams’ in Dusseldorf, Germany. No artworks are shown in this museum, rather each visitor himself becomes an artwork by staging himself in front of one of the 25 sceneries. Cali Dreams is initially open for three months. After this test phase, however, the museum is planned as a long-term project

37/50 24 October 2019

A fire lorry speeds towards a rampant wildfire near Geyserville, California

38/50 23 October 2019

Protesters facing Lebanese army soldiers wave national flags in the area of Jal al-Dib in the northern outskirts of Beirut. A week of unprecedented street protests against the political class showed no signs of abating, despite the army moving to reopen key roads. Protests were sparked on October 17 by a proposed tax on WhatsApp and other messaging apps

39/50 22 October 2019

Liberal leader and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau waves to supporters beside his wife Sophie after the federal election at the Palais des Congres in Montreal. He managed to hold on to power, albeit of a minority government, in one of the most divisive elections in the country’s history

40/50 21 October 2019

A convoy of US vehicles is seen after withdrawing from northern Syria, on the outskirts of Dohuk, Iraq

41/50 20 October 2019

Japan players go over to thank their fans after South Africa beat them in the quarter-final of the Rugby World Cup. Makazole Mapimpi double ended the hosts’ dreams in Tokyo 3-26. The Springboks will now face Wales in the semi-finals for a place in the final

42/50 19 October 2019

Archaeologists remove the cover of an ancient painted coffin discovered at Al-Asasif Necropolis in the Vally of Kings in Luxor, Egypt

43/50 18 October 2019

A protester throws a tire on a fire to block the highway north of Beirut, Lebanon. Protesters, mainly civil activists, started demonstrating in the downtown area on 17 October, condemning proposed taxes in the 2020 budget. An unexpected addition to impose a daily fee for using WhatsApp calls caused outrage. However, according to the Telecommunications Minister Mohamed Choucair, the charge will not make it through the government palace after the impact it has made on the streets

44/50 17 October 2019

Children watch as army tanks are transported on trucks in the outskirts of the town of Akcakale, in Sanliurfa province, southeastern Turkey, at the border of Syria

45/50 16 October 2019

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un riding a white horse amongst the first snow at Mouth Paektu

46/50 15 October 2019

Protesters create a burning barricade after the Supreme Court in Madrid handed lengthy prison sentences to nine of the detained Catalonian leaders for up to 13 years each

47/50 14 October 2019

Protestors light their torches during a peaceful rally in central Hong Kong’s business district. The protests that started in June over a now-shelved extradition bill have since snowballed into an anti-China campaign amid anger over what many view as Beijing’s interference in Hong Kong’s autonomy that was granted when the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997

48/50 13 October 2019

Japan players celebrate victory after beating Scotland 28-21 to reach the quarter-finals of the Rugby World Cup for the first ever time. The hosts head coach Jamie Joseph paid tribute to those who lost their lives in Typhoon Hagibis

49/50 12 October 2019

Surging waves generated by typhoon Hagibis hit the seashore in Mihama, Mie Prefecture, Japan. Hagibis is the strongest storm to hit in six decades and battered the country’s main island with torrential rain and violent winds
Firefighters battle the Saddleridge fire in Sylmar, California

1/50 30 November 2019

A child holds a placard during a ‘drop dead’ flashmob protest against climate change consequences at Lumpini Park in Bangkok, Thailand

2/50 28 November 2019

Pro-democracy protesters hold an SOS sign and US national flags during a Thanksgiving rally in Edinburgh Place, Hong Kong. Protesters were thanking US President Donald Trump for signing into a law ‘The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act Hong Kong’, provoking an angry backlash from the Chinese government. Hong Kong is in its sixth month of mass protests, which were originally triggered by a now withdrawn extradition bill, and have since turned into a wider pro-democracy movement

3/50 27 November 2019

Rescuers with a dog search through the rubble of a collapsed building after an earthquake in Durres, western Albania

4/50 26 November 2019

A shepherd leads a flock of sheep on a pontoon bridge in Allahabad

5/50 25 November 2019

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspects a female company belonging to 5492 troops

6/50 24 November 2019

A protester jumps between burning tires during ongoing anti-government protests in Basra, Iraq

7/50 23 November 2019

Fans dressed as Star Wars characters during day three of the first Test between Australia and Pakistan at The Gabba in Australia

8/50 22 November 2019

Pope Francis speaks with religious leaders during a meeting at the Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand

9/50 21 November 2019

A girl injured in last night’s attack by the Syrian regime on a camp for displaced people near the Turkish border in Idlib, Syria is held up to the camera

10/50 20 November 2019

Indian paramilitary soldiers detain a Congress party supporter during a protest against the withdrawal of Special Protection Group (SPG) cover to party president Sonia Gandhi, her children and former prime minister Manmohan Singh, in New Delh. The move to lift off the SPG security, an elite force that protects prime ministers and their immediate families, led to sharp reactions from the Congress, which accused the government of personal vendetta

11/50 19 November 2019

An image taken from a plane window shows Sydney shrouded in smoke from nearby bush fires

12/50 18 November 2019

Protesters run for cover after riot police fired tear gas towards the bridge they were climbing down to the road below, to escape from Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Dozens escaped the besieged campus by lowering themselves on a rope from a footbridge to a highway. Once on the road they were seen being picked up by waiting motorcyclists

13/50 17 November 2019

Anti-government protesters draped in Iraqi national flags walk into clouds of smoke from burning tires during a demonstration in the southern city of Basra, Iraq

14/50 16 November 2019

A protester wearing a yellow jacket waves a French flag in a fountain during a demonstration to mark the first anniversary of the “yellow vests” movement in Nice, France

15/50 15 November 2019

A Palestinian protester uses a slingshot to return a tear gas canister fired by Israeli forces amid clashes following a weekly demonstration against the expropriation of Palestinian land by Israel in the village of Kfar Qaddum

16/50 14 November 2019

A patient suffering from dengue fever receives medical treatment at an isolation ward at a hospital in Larkana, Pakistan. According to local reports, 26 deaths have been reported out of a total of 10,013 confirmed cases of dengue infection. Dengue fever is reportedly caused by a specific type of mosquito, the Aedes mosquito, that bites only during daytime, especially during sunrise and sunset.

17/50 13 November 2019

An anti-government protester flashes the V-sign for victory in front of burning tyres used to block a main road at the entrance of Tripoli. The previous night, street protests erupted across Lebanon after President Michel Aoun defended the role of his allies, the Shiite movement Hezbollah, in Lebanon’s government, cutting off several major roads. In his televised address, Aoun proposed a government that includes both technocrats and politicians

18/50 12 November 2019

An Israeli missile launching from the Iron Dome defence missile system, designed to intercept and destroy incoming short-range rockets and artillery shells. They were sent up to intercept rockets launched from the nearby Palestinian Gaza Strip. Israel’s military killed a commander for Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad in a strike on his home, prompting retaliatory rocket fire and fears of a severe escalation in violence

19/50 11 November 2019

A species of deer thought to be extinct, the chevrotain, has been spotted for the first time in 30 years in the wilds of Vietnam. The deer is around the size of a domestic cat

20/50 10 November 2019

The royal motorcade of Japanese Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako, under tight security, passes through a street in Tokyo. Thousands of people gathered for the rare open-top car parade featuring the newly enthroned Emperor

21/50 9 November 2019

People knock over a mock-up of the former Berlin Wall during a performance prior to the German first division Bundesliga football match Hertha BSC Berlin v RB Leipzig on the 30 anniversary of the fall off the wall

22/50 8 November 2019

Flames from an out of control bushfire from a nearby residential area in Harrington, northeast of Sydney. Australian firefighters warned they were in “uncharted territory” as they struggled to contain dozens of out-of-control bushfires across the east of the country

23/50 7 November 2019

Demonstrators shine lasers during a protest against Chile’s government in Santiago, the capital

24/50 6 November 2019

Activists from India’s main opposition Congress party shout slogans as they are stopped by police during a protest against what the activists say is economic slowdown in the country, in Guwahati, India

25/50 5 November 2019

Smoke rises from a fire in downtown Lagos, Nigeria. Firefighters worked hard to try and extinguish a fire at the Balogun market. Thick black smoke and flames shot from the five-story buildings as fire trucks attempted to get access

26/50 4 November 2019

Women run down a sand dune as they take part in the desert trek “Rose Trip Maroc” in the erg Chebbi near Merzouga. It is a female-oriented trek where teams of three must travel through the southern Moroccan Sahara desert with a compass, a map and a topographical reporter

27/50 3 November 2019

Riot police descend an escalator inside the City Plaza mall in Hong Kong after a bloody knife fight wounded six people there. A local pro-democracy politician had his ear bitten off during another chaotic day of political unrest in the city

28/50 2 November 2019

People participate in the celebration of the ‘muerteadas de Jalapa del Valle’, as part of the Day of the Dead in Mexico

29/50 1 November 2019

Firefighters work to control flames from a backfire during the Maria fire in Santa Paula, California

30/50 31 October 2019

Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights, over the Vestrahorn mountain in the east of Iceland

31/50 30 October 2019

A model presents a creation at the show Heaven Gaia by Xiong Ying during the China Fashion Week in Beijing. The fashion event runs from 25 October to 2 November

32/50 29 October 2019

Hindu devotees collect rice as offerings on ‘Annakut’ or ‘Govardhan Puja’ festival at the Madan Mohan temple in Kolkata. People in large numbers gather at the temple to collect the rice offerings in the belief that it will keep them in good health and they’ll never face poverty or scarcity of food

33/50 28 October 2019

Authorities investigate after a Port Authority bus was caught in a sinkhole in downtown Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

34/50 27 October 2019

South Africa players celebrate after beating Wales in their Rugby World Cup semi-final match. The Springboks will face England in next Saturday’s final following fly-half Handre Pollard’s match-winning penalty four minutes from time. The match ended 19-16

35/50 26 October 2019

Participants from Thailand pose in front of the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall as they take part in the annual gay pride parade in Taipei. Some two hundred thousand revellers marched through Taipei in a riot of rainbow colours and celebration as Taiwan held its first pride parade since making history in Asia by legalising gay marriage

36/50 25 October 2019

A girl enjoys a ball bath as she is being photographed at the made-for-Instagram museum ‘Cali Dreams’ in Dusseldorf, Germany. No artworks are shown in this museum, rather each visitor himself becomes an artwork by staging himself in front of one of the 25 sceneries. Cali Dreams is initially open for three months. After this test phase, however, the museum is planned as a long-term project

37/50 24 October 2019

A fire lorry speeds towards a rampant wildfire near Geyserville, California

38/50 23 October 2019

Protesters facing Lebanese army soldiers wave national flags in the area of Jal al-Dib in the northern outskirts of Beirut. A week of unprecedented street protests against the political class showed no signs of abating, despite the army moving to reopen key roads. Protests were sparked on October 17 by a proposed tax on WhatsApp and other messaging apps

39/50 22 October 2019

Liberal leader and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau waves to supporters beside his wife Sophie after the federal election at the Palais des Congres in Montreal. He managed to hold on to power, albeit of a minority government, in one of the most divisive elections in the country’s history

40/50 21 October 2019

A convoy of US vehicles is seen after withdrawing from northern Syria, on the outskirts of Dohuk, Iraq

41/50 20 October 2019

Japan players go over to thank their fans after South Africa beat them in the quarter-final of the Rugby World Cup. Makazole Mapimpi double ended the hosts’ dreams in Tokyo 3-26. The Springboks will now face Wales in the semi-finals for a place in the final

42/50 19 October 2019

Archaeologists remove the cover of an ancient painted coffin discovered at Al-Asasif Necropolis in the Vally of Kings in Luxor, Egypt

43/50 18 October 2019

A protester throws a tire on a fire to block the highway north of Beirut, Lebanon. Protesters, mainly civil activists, started demonstrating in the downtown area on 17 October, condemning proposed taxes in the 2020 budget. An unexpected addition to impose a daily fee for using WhatsApp calls caused outrage. However, according to the Telecommunications Minister Mohamed Choucair, the charge will not make it through the government palace after the impact it has made on the streets

44/50 17 October 2019

Children watch as army tanks are transported on trucks in the outskirts of the town of Akcakale, in Sanliurfa province, southeastern Turkey, at the border of Syria

45/50 16 October 2019

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un riding a white horse amongst the first snow at Mouth Paektu

46/50 15 October 2019

Protesters create a burning barricade after the Supreme Court in Madrid handed lengthy prison sentences to nine of the detained Catalonian leaders for up to 13 years each

47/50 14 October 2019

Protestors light their torches during a peaceful rally in central Hong Kong’s business district. The protests that started in June over a now-shelved extradition bill have since snowballed into an anti-China campaign amid anger over what many view as Beijing’s interference in Hong Kong’s autonomy that was granted when the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997

48/50 13 October 2019

Japan players celebrate victory after beating Scotland 28-21 to reach the quarter-finals of the Rugby World Cup for the first ever time. The hosts head coach Jamie Joseph paid tribute to those who lost their lives in Typhoon Hagibis

49/50 12 October 2019

Surging waves generated by typhoon Hagibis hit the seashore in Mihama, Mie Prefecture, Japan. Hagibis is the strongest storm to hit in six decades and battered the country’s main island with torrential rain and violent winds
Firefighters battle the Saddleridge fire in Sylmar, California

The Trump administration and key congressional Republicans have stood by the nomination, however, arguing that Mr Billingslea’s role in the approval of the torture techniques has been overstated and that he has been an aggressive and effective advocate in his current position as the Treasury Department’s assistant secretary for terrorist financing – a position that, in light of the State Department vacancy, has effectively made him the top US official travelling the world opposing corruption and promoting human rights.

Among those vouching for Mr Billingslea is Juan Guaidó, the leader of the Venezuelan opposition to president Nicolás Maduro, who praised Mr Billingslea in a September letter to the Senate for leading the US effort to sanction members of the Maduro regime.

“Mr Billingslea has been on the front lines fighting against human rights abuses and corruption around the world,” treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement. “From leading the charge against hunger profiteers in Venezuela, to thwarting Hezbolloh’s exploitation of Lebanon and calling to account systemic corruption in South Sudan, Mr Billingslea has been instrumental in advancing human rights globally and is more than equipped to continue this charge … at the State Department.”

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But the nomination remains in limbo. Following the 19 September hearing, in which Mr Billingslea faced sharp questioning about his record and repeatedly denied being an “advocate for torture”, senator Robert Menendez, accused Mr Billingslea of having “misrepresented his role” on interrogation policy and called on the Pentagon to declassify and release additional records related to his tenure as principal deputy assistant secretary of defence.

The concerns have been bipartisan: Kentucky senator Rand Paul, also expressed misgivings about Mr Billingslea’s Pentagon record at the hearing and has joined Democrats in requesting more documents. If party lines otherwise hold in the closely divided Foreign Relations Committee, Paul could block the panel from favourably advancing the nomination to the Senate floor.

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Mr Paul said in a recent interview that he has asked the Trump administration for any documentation from Mr Billingslea’s time in the Pentagon showing “where he was arguing against widening the ability to do torture”.

“I haven’t seen any of that yet, and unless I do, I’m very troubled,” he said.

The Foreign Relations Committee has not moved forward with Mr Billingslea’s nomination since the hearing. In a brief interview earlier this month, chairman James Risch said he supported Mr Billingslea’s confirmation but declined to say when he plans to move forward with it.

The use of hoods and other tactics to intimidate detainees were banned by congress (Getty)

“I think that he’s laid out exactly what the situation was, and everybody has to vote on it the way they think is appropriate,” he said.

The post of undersecretary for civilian security, democracy and human rights has been vacant since Mr Trump took office in 2017. It was established during the Obama administration to consolidate various State Department bureaus with the intention of creating a voice in the top echelon of the Foggy Bottom bureaucracy to promote those interests alongside, and occasionally against, the more transactional concerns that hold sway elsewhere in the foreign policymaking bureaucracy.

“The very fact that there hasn’t been an undersecretary arguing for these positions has allowed for them to lose out in many a policy debate thus far,” said Rob Berschinski, who served as a deputy assistant secretary of state and now serves as senior vice president of policy for Human Rights First, a group opposing Mr Billingslea’s confirmation.

“From the human rights community, people are very interested in having that position filled, but only with somebody whose background would allow them to speak authoritatively on the issues,” he said. 

Mr Billingslea and his allies have argued that his work in the Treasury Department has made him singularly qualified for the more senior State Department position, pointing to his extensive global travels promoting anti-corruption and human-rights issues and his work to impose financial sanctions on members of rogue regimes.

The conservative foreign policy establishment has praised his work targeting the regimes in Venezuela and Iran with sanctions, as well as people associated with abuses in Myanmar, Nicaragua, and other countries. They have also defended him against attacks on his Pentagon record and noted that mR Billingslea’s Treasury nomination was supported by the late senator John McCain the pre-eminent congressional voice criticising the Bush administration’s use of torture.

Taliban and al Qaeda detainees held at Guantanamo Bay in 2002 (Getty)

“In my years knowing Mr Billingslea, I have found him to be open-minded, a person of immense integrity, committed to human rights of all people, dedicated to upholding our laws and thoroughly devoted to the values Americans hold dear,” said Toby Dershowitz, a senior vice president at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “Political disagreements are legitimate and part of America’s tradition. But I have found the other objections some have put forth to be unfounded.”

To human rights advocates, Mr Billingslea’s record at Treasury is besides the point: If named to the State Department post, they argue, he will simply lack the credibility to advocate for his portfolio inside the Trump administration and abroad.

“The senior most US official responsible for human rights policy should be disqualified if they have a pro-torture background – that is not a high bar,” Mr Berschinski said. “He’s not going to have any credibility walking into a foreign ministry in Beijing or Riyadh or Cairo. He’ll get the exact same message: Who are you to lecture me?”

At his confirmation hearing, Democrat senator Ben Cardin, asked Mr Billingslea how he would handle just that scenario, where he was confronted on his credibility by a foreign counterpart who raised his torture record.

Mr Billingslea said that he would “advocate for and respect” congress’s 2015 decision to ban torture techniques across the government.

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“We have to talk to our counterparts about the fact that we are a nation of law, and we learn from our mistakes, and we evolve,” he said. “And therefore, we will expect that other countries understand this and learn with us on these matters.”

But Mr Billingslea’s other claims at the hearing, suggesting that he was merely a bureaucratic functionary relaying decisions up the chain of command, only intensified the criticism from officials he dealt with at the time. Mr Romig, in his letter, said Mr Billingslea “went out of his way to advocate for using abusive interrogation techniques against detainees in our custody … despite being told that his positions were wrong, counterproductive, and unlawful by a group of senior military lawyers.”

Mark Fallon, a former senior Naval Criminal Investigative Service official who opposed the use of torture techniques as a leader of an investigative task force at Guantanamo, said the decisions Mr Billingslea supported contributed to the difficultly of bringing its detainees to justice and closing the facility for good.

“Marshall Billingslea was our biggest obstacle within the Pentagon trying to dissuade policymakers from going down a road that we believed was illegal, immoral and ineffective and would derail the ability to bring forth justice,” he said. “So it’s disingenuous for him to claim that he was some type of passive participant.”

The lead investigator for the 2008 Senate Armed Services Committee report, Joseph M Bryan, also disputed Mr Billingslea’s claim that he “never supported torture nor anything resembling torture” in a letter sent to the Foreign Relations panel the day after the hearing.

“The record established in the [2008 Senate] investigation does not support that assessment,” Mr Bryan wrote, adding that Mr Billingslea recommended “interrogation techniques that included, among other measures, hooding detainees, slapping them, and threatening to transfer them to a third country that the detainee was likely to fear would subject him to torture or death”.

Benjamin Haas, an attorney for Human Rights First who has advocated against Mr Billingslea’s nomination, said the post-hearing outcry should give the Senate pause.

“As if Mr. Billingslea’s pro-torture record isn’t bad enough, it’s shocking that he also brazenly misled the Senate,” Haas said. “On this basis, senators should nix Mr Billingslea’s nomination.”

The Washington Post