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Ian Fishback, who blew the whistle on torture by the U.S. military, was laid to rest

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Ian Fishback was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery yesterday. Fishback was an Army veteran who deployed four times to Iraq and Afghanistan. He was also named one of Time magazine's most influential people for blowing the whistle on torture by the U.S. military. And despite being hailed as a real-life Captain America, Fishback died broke, virtually homeless and in court-mandated mental health care.

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MARC GARLASCO: It's a real damning, damning statement on 20 years of war and how we treat the veterans of this country.

KELLY: That is former Pentagon official Marc Garlasco, who spoke to NPR's Quil Lawrence about Fishback's death in 2021. Here's more of Quil's remembrance.

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QUIL LAWRENCE: Ian Fishback deployed with the 82nd Airborne to Afghanistan and then to Iraq. It was there that he saw troops using so-called enhanced interrogation tactics, including breaking prisoners' bones and stripping them naked in the freezing cold. Fishback later talked about it on the "Hi-Phi Nation" podcast.

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IAN FISHBACK: There was no clear standard to replace the Geneva Conventions, so people were just basically making their own stuff up.

LAWRENCE: The world had seen pictures from the Abu Ghraib scandal. But, at the time, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told Congress those were bad apples who would be punished. Fishback knew different.

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FISHBACK: My concern was that these soldiers were being scapegoated and that we weren't being honest to Congress.

LAWRENCE: Fishback protested within his Army chain of command for over a year. Then, he called a former Pentagon official, Marc Garlasco, who was working with Human Rights Watch. Garlasco says Fishback was worried about the Iraqi victims of torture but also his own soldiers.

GARLASCO: But he was worried about the moral injury that they had sustained, having participated in the torture of - you know, of human beings.

LAWRENCE: That conversation would lead Fishback to contact Senator John McCain, who later that year pushed the Detainee Treatment Act through Congress. Time magazine named Fishback among the 100 most influential people of 2005. At the time, he was about to qualify for Special Forces. Fishback didn't see why being a whistleblower would change that. His sister, Jazcinda Jorgensen, says her brother lived by a code.

JAZCINDA JORGENSEN: There's a right and there's a wrong, and you do what's right regardless of the cost.

KELLY: That was Quil Lawrence remembering the Green Beret Ian Fishback. He deployed twice more to Iraq with Special Forces and later said he lost faith in the Iraq war. He started pursuing a Ph.D. in philosophy at the University of Michigan in 2014. After several up and down years, he was involuntarily committed after behaving erratically in public in September of 2021. He died of cardiac arrest that November while in adult foster care. Ian Fishback was 42 years old, buried yesterday at Arlington National Cemetery. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Quil Lawrence is a New York-based correspondent for NPR News, covering veterans' issues nationwide. He won a Robert F. Kennedy Award for his coverage of American veterans and a Gracie Award for coverage of female combat veterans. In 2019 Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America honored Quil with its IAVA Salutes Award for Leadership in Journalism.
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