Ian Fishback: A Whistleblower Who Reminded the U.S. Military of Its Values

When he complained to his company commander, the senior officer urged him to resign and said, “I see how you can take it that way, but remember that the honor of the unit is at stake.” Visiting Iraq, Fishback asked him to give the troops clearer answers, but said the problem was already resolved.

Photos from Abu Ghraib prison were then publicly revealed, showing inmates being subjected to the same horrific treatment that Fishback witnessed at its base. He was troubled to see that low-ranking soldiers in prison were being held responsible for a problem that he knew was caused by the poor choices made by these leaders.

After exhausting all other options in 2005, Fishback sat down with an investigator for Human Rights Watch, where I was working at the time. Two non-commissioned officers who had served on the same forward base of operations confirmed his allegations. Fishback asked us to convey his concerns to Senator John McCain, whom he trusted because of the Senator’s military background and personal experience with torture. He wrote a letter that I passed on to McCain and later I took him to meet the Senator.

In his letter, Fishback wrote, “I remember that as a cadet at West Point, I made a decision to ensure that my men never commit dishonorable act; that I would protect her from that kind of stress. It absolutely breaks my heart that I have failed some of them in this regard. ”He urged McCain to work to give the men and women of our military“ a clear standard that conforms to the basic principles of our nation ”.

He concluded, “When we give up our ideals in the face of adversity and aggression, those ideals have never really been in our possession. I’d rather die fighting than give up even the smallest part of the idea that America is. “

Fishback’s revelations disproved the Pentagon’s allegations that the abuse at Abu Ghraib Prison was isolated. They helped McCain demonstrate that the Bush administration’s decisions had encouraged the widespread use of torture by military and intelligence personnel in Iraq and in the wider war on terror.

A few weeks later, spurred in part by Fishback’s testimony, Congress overwhelmingly passed the McCain’s Detainee Treatment Act, which prohibited the cruel practices Fishback had exposed and limited military interrogators to the humane techniques described in U.S. Army manuals are described. A few years later, Congress extended the same restrictions to the CIA. They remain the law of the country to this day.

After four combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, Fishback left the army. He taught at West Point and even considered running for office one day. But for reasons we cannot be entirely sure of, his problems, including mental health, increased. He died while on a waiting list for VA treatment. Just as he exposed one injustice in his life, his death revealed another – the outrageous lack of mental illness treatment beds in America, including veterans.

We should remember Ian Fishback twice as a hero. He risked his life to wage America’s wars and risked his career to secure America’s ideals. We have to do better for veterans like him who give everything to protect our country and make our country better, better.

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