In retirement, Gen. Vessey also led the advisory board of the Center for Preventive Action, an arm of the Council on Foreign Relations that seeks to prevent conflicts before they erupt; consulted for the Defense Science Board, Army Science Board and the Sandia National Laboratory; and led a campaign to build up the endowment funds of colleges affiliated with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. While Gen. Vessey generally wielded his influence in military and foreign policy circles away from the public spotlight after he retired, he made news in 2006 when he spoke out against a push to weaken protections under the Geneva Conventions against torture of prisoners, particularly as they applied to suspected terrorists. He wrote U.S. Sen. John McCain expressing concern that doing so would undermine the moral basis that had traditionally guided U.S. conduct in war, and that could give opponents a legal argument for the mistreatment of Americans being held prisoner in time of war. Another retired chairman of the joint chiefs, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, called Gen. Vesseys comments powerful and eloquent in his own letter to McCain. Those letters became ammunition in the congressional debate over the use of coercive interrogation techniques in the war on terror.
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