Former US president Jimmy Carter has declared that drone strikes and targeted assassinations abroad have seen the country violating human rights in a way that “abets our enemies and alienates our friends”.
In a stinging attack on US foreign policy, Carter said America was “abandoning its role as a champion of human rights” and called on Washington to “reverse course and regain moral leadership”.
At a time when popular revolutions are sweeping the globe, the US should be strengthening, not weakening “basic rules of law and principles of justice”, Carter says in the New York Times on Monday. His fierce criticisms, just months before Obama hopes to regain the White House in November’s presidential election, also lambast the use of drones and detention.
Attacks on human rights after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, have been “sanctioned and escalated by bipartisan executive and legislative actions, without dissent from the general public”, says the former president, who is also a Nobel peace prize winner. “As a result, our country can no longer speak with moral authority on these critical issues.”
Carter adds: “While the country has made mistakes in the past, the widespread abuse of human rights over the last decade has been a dramatic change from the past.”
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights , adopted in 1948 with US leadership, “has been invoked by human rights activists and the international community to replace most of the world’s dictatorships with democracies and to promote the rule of law in domestic and global affairs. It is disturbing that, instead of strengthening these principles, our government’s counter-terrorism policies are now clearly violating at least 10 of the declaration’s 30 articles, including the prohibition against “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”.
Recent US legislation has made legal the president’s right to detain a person indefinitely on suspicion of affiliation with terrorist organisations or “associated forces”, says Carter. “This law violates the right to freedom of expression and to be presumed innocent until proved guilty, two other rights enshrined in the declaration.”
There are “unprecedented violations of our rights to privacy through warrantless wiretapping and government mining of our electronic communications. Popular state laws permit detaining individuals because of their appearance, where they worship or with whom they associate.”
Carter says: “Despite an arbitrary rule that any man killed by drones is declared an enemy terrorist, the death of nearby innocent women and children is accepted as inevitable. After more than 30 airstrikes on civilian homes this year in Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai has demanded that such attacks end, but the practice continues in areas of Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen that are not in any war zone. We don’t know how many hundreds of innocent civilians have been killed in these attacks, each one approved by the highest authorities in Washington. This would have been unthinkable in previous times.”
Turning to the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, Carter says of the 169 prisoners held there: “About half have been cleared for release, yet have little prospect of ever obtaining their freedom. American authorities have revealed that, in order to obtain confessions, some of the few being tried (only in military courts) have been tortured by waterboarding more than 100 times or intimidated with semiautomatic weapons, power drills or threats to sexually assault their mothers. Astoundingly, these facts cannot be used as a defence by the accused, because the government claims they occurred under the cover of ‘national security’. Most of the other prisoners have no prospect of ever being charged or tried either.”
Instead of making the world safer, “America’s violation of international human rights abets our enemies and alienates our friends”, says the former president.
“As concerned citizens, we must persuade Washington to reverse course and regain moral leadership according to international human rights norms that we had officially adopted as our own and cherished throughout the years.”
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