Major Ian Fishback Dead at 42: Army Officer's Reports of Iraqi Detainee Abuse Led to Anti-Torture Legislation

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Maj. Ian Fishback
Maj. Ian Fishback

New America/Wikimedia

Maj. Ian Fishback, an Army officer who reported abuse of detained Iraqis by members of the 82nd Airborne Division in 2005, died Friday of unknown causes at 42.

Fishback was a whistleblower who came forward with allegations of soldier in his battalion engaging in the systematic torture and mistreatment of Iraqis in detention in 2003 and 2004.

In letters to Sen. John McCain and Sen. John Warner —both members of the Senate Armed Services Committee at the time — Fishback wrote of "a wide range of abuses including death threats, beatings, broken bones, murder, exposure to elements, extreme forced physical exertion, hostage-taking, stripping, sleep deprivation and degrading treatment."

Later that year, the Senate passed McCain's Detainee Treatment Act, which states that "no individual in the custody or under the physical control of the United States Government, regardless of nationality or physical location, shall be subject to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment."

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TIME selected Fishback as "one of the men and women whose power, talent or moral example is transforming our world" in the magazine's 2006 list of the 100 most influential people in the world.

In the years since, Fishback's family said he struggled with neurological damage or post-traumatic stress disorder resulting from combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Times reports. In September, Fishback was involuntarily committed following a public disturbance arrest and ordered to receive treatment with anti-psychotic drugs. He was in a care facility at the time of his death.

"We know the community supported Ian through his recent difficult times," his family said in a statement. "He faced many challenges and many of us felt helpless. We tried to get him the help he needed. It appears the system failed him utterly and tragically. There are many questions surrounding his death and the official cause of death is unknown at this time. We can assure you that we will get to the bottom of this. We will seek justice for Ian, because justice is what mattered most to him."

The family has requested an autopsy, his sister told his hometown paper, the Newberry News.

Born in Detroit on Jan. 19, 1979, Fishback grew up on Michigan's Upper Peninsula. He graduated from West Point in 2001 and served in the U.S. Army until 2014, the Times reports. He also earned a master's degree and a doctorate at the University of Michigan and taught at West Point from 2012 to 2015.

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He has a young daughter with an ex-wife, West Point graduate Clara Hoisington, according to the Times.

Fishback's life will be remembered at a funeral on Saturday in Newberry. Full military honors conducted by the American Legion Post #74 and the United States Army Honor Guard will conclude the services, according to the Beaulieu Funeral Home.

Friends had launched a GoFundMe page to raise money for Fishback's care. "Ian requires extensive medical treatment. This battle will likely be years or decades, and he needs help to get those first steps underway. Ian is temporarily receiving a modest amount of care in lower Michigan but understands that admittance into a skilled and well-rounded program is necessary for recovery," Justin Ford wrote on the page.

Almost a third of the way towards a goal of $60,000, Ford posted an update the day after Fishback died. "I want all of you to know that I called Ian multiple times a week and told him who donated money; we talked about many of you and what you meant to him," he said. "Your support meant so much to him. I want you all to know, in his last days with us, he knew he was loved and cared for, and you all gave that to him."

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