In Appeal for Moral Leadership, Jimmy Carter Calls for an End to Drone Attacks and the Closure of Guantánamo


I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January with US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

Last Sunday, in “A Cruel and Unusual Record,” an op-ed in the New York Times, just two days before the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, former US President Jimmy Carter delivered an impassioned plea for the US to undo the ruinous effects of ten years of the “war on terror” — or the “long war,” as it is now more fashionably known — and to regain its moral authority around the world.

The former President began by stating that the United States was “abandoning its role as the global champion of human rights,” and seized, in particular, on the fact that senior officials in the Obama administration “are targeting people to be assassinated abroad, including American citizens,” and the recent revelation that President Obama personally approves drone attacks based on a “kill list” as “only the most recent, disturbing proof of how far our nation’s violation of human rights has extended.”

As President Carter stated, correctly:

This development began after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and has been sanctioned and escalated by bipartisan executive and legislative actions, without dissent from the general public. As a result, our country can no longer speak with moral authority on these critical issues.

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. With leadership from the United States, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in 1948 as “the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.” This was a bold and clear commitment that power would no longer serve as a cover to oppress or injure people, and it established equal rights of all people to life, liberty, security of person, equal protection of the law and freedom from torture, arbitrary detention or forced exile.

Crucially, President Carter noted that, although the declaration “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,” we are now in such a “disturbing” situation that, “instead of strengthening these principles,” the US government’s counterterrorism 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.'”

As well as complaining about the government’s drone policy, the former President also complained about how “recent laws have canceled the restraints in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 to allow unprecedented violations of our rights to privacy through warrantless wiretapping and government mining of our electronic communications,” and how some laws, in individual states, “permit detaining individuals because of their appearance, where they worship or with whom they associate.”

He also launched a withering attack on the passages in the National Defense Authorization Act, introduced by Congress, which “made legal the president’s right to detain a person indefinitely on suspicion of affiliation with terrorist organizations or ‘associated forces,’ a broad, vague power that can be abused without meaningful oversight from the courts or Congress.” While noting that this particular part of the NDAA was recently blocked by a federal judge, he added that it is fundamentally unacceptable because it “violates the right to freedom of expression and to be presumed innocent until proved guilty, two other rights enshrined in the declaration.”

President Carter also discussed the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, although he did not explicitly draw parallels between the detention provisions in the NDAA and Guantánamo, which was a pity, as the men held in Guantánamo provided — and still provide — the supposed justification for “the president’s right to detain a person indefinitely on suspicion of affiliation with terrorist organizations or ‘associated forces,'” even though they have also, for the most part, been deprived of “the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty,” through the founding document of the “war on terror,” the Authorization for Use of Military Force.

Passed by Congress the week after the 9/11 attacks, the AUMF claims to justify the detention of prisoners seized in wartime to be held not as prisoners of war, according to the Geneva Conventions, but as “detainees,” essentially without rights, who, the US asserts, can be held until the end of hostilities, even though it is widely accepted that this ill-defined “war” may last for generations, and there are no mechanisms in place to challenge this claim.

In discussing Guantánamo, President Carter did, however, note that “the prison now houses 169 prisoners,” and that about half of these men — actually 87 of them — “have been cleared for release, yet have little prospect of ever obtaining their freedom,” a key component of our complaints here at “Close Guantánamo,” and one which we are grateful to President Carter for highlighting.

He also explained that “[m]ost of the other prisoners have no prospect of ever being charged or tried either,” which is clearly unacceptable, and, with a palpable sense of outrage, also commented on the torture of the “high-value detainees,” and the manner in which evidence of their torture is being suppressed by senior officials. As he explained:

[I]n 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 defense by the accused, because the government claims they occurred under the cover of “national security.”

President Carter’s powerful critique of US policy under President Bush and President Obama also contained an implacable revulsion at the sleight-of-hand and fundamental illegality of the drone attacks. “Despite an arbitrary rule that any man killed by drones is declared an enemy terrorist,” he wrote, “the death of nearby innocent women and children is accepted as inevitable.”

Providing further detail, he specifically noted, “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.”

Significantly, he added, “This would have been unthinkable in previous times.”

After noting that the counterproductive effects of the attacks, which have “turned aggrieved families toward terrorist organizations, aroused civilian populations against us and permitted repressive governments to cite such actions to justify their own despotic behaviour,” President Carter concluded by pointing out that, “when popular revolutions are sweeping the globe, the United States should be strengthening, not weakening, basic rules of law and principles of justice enumerated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

“But instead of making the world safer,” he continued, “America’s violation of international human rights abets our enemies and alienates our friends. 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.”

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Digg and YouTube). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in April 2012, “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” a 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, and details about the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here — or here for the US). Also see my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and please also consider joining the new “Close Guantánamo campaign,” and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

21 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, Zilma Nunes wrote:

    Former President Carter integrated actual values of Human Rights. Unfortunately, not all are like him.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Jennah Solace wrote:

    Good point — ‘abets our enemies and alienates our friends’ — it seems like that could be the very purpose behind many acts perpetrated.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Toia Tutta Jung wrote:

    Though the US has never been very good at respecting human rights …

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Zilma, Jennah and Toia. Good to hear from you all. Hard to argue with the slightly rose-tinted view of US history that Jimmy Carter espouses, but I have always thought that, after 9/11, the Bush administration deliberately made the human rights abuses that had previously been at least somewhat hidden and covert into official policy, and his criticism of drones, Guantanamo and torture was therefore very powerful.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Toia Tutta Jung wrote:

    How they’ve treated their Native Americans, Afro Americans and then Mexicans leaves no doubt about that.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Lotus Yee Fong wrote:

    Carter represents light shining on the dark side of American hegemony…my father would have called him a good man.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Sylvia P. Coley wrote:

    Andy, thank you for all your efforts and tell every one again how to get your book!

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Ann Alexander wrote:

    Thanks Andy. Jimmy Carter is now my hero of the month. Who would have thought it? But you are my hero every day Andy for your constant support and hard work to keep us all enlightened to the injustices of Guantanamo and here too.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Well, thank you very much, Sylvia and Ann.
    And Sylvia, my book – which remains a good primer, I think, even though it’s nearly five years old! – is available through Amazon:

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Robert McLoud wrote:

    Falling on deaf ears, the democrats have all become republicans.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Not quite all, Robert, although in general I agree. Taking the longer view, however, keeping Guantanamo open forever, so that the majority of the 169 men still held die there – 10, 20, 30, 40 years hence – really isn’t going to look good for the legacy of whichever leaders failed to close it because it was politically challenging to do so, as well as being a very big black mark on America as a whole. The shaming mission begins in earnest in January 2013, but between now and then we need to do whatever we can to put pressure on Obama.

  12. Zamir says...

    Violence begets violence: the more we work for catch and kill the more insecure world we are creating, the emphasis should be more on dialog, equal distribution of resources and equal opportunity and equal rights….. Jimmy Carter’s speech is wake up call for all of us, and we must not ignore the importance which is embedded in a thought that it is only peace which can bring prosperity to all of us.

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes indeed. Thanks for your thoughts.

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    Zilma Nunes wrote:

    cheers President Carter…

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    And thank you, Zilma.

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    Also, I’ve been informed by my friend cosmicsurfer that the original version of this article, published on “Close Guantanamo,” has taken off on reddit, with nearly 2,000 people voting for it. Good news!

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    Neil Goodwin wrote:

    Nice work Andy. It seems to have been so easy for the US to file away kidnap, torture, assasination and murder under ‘acceptable’ and ‘necessary’. And therefore so important for those of us who remember what ‘honour’ and ‘truth’ means to pull them up on it, and to continue challenging these Nazis.

  18. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Neil. Great to hear from you, my friend.

  19. damo68 says...

    jimmy carter is one of the worst monsters of all time on a level with hitler ,pol pot stalin an utter monster jimmy carter the carter adminnistration and global 2000 whitch under nixon at first then carter manufactured a certan virus at fort deitrict in maryland in the mid 70s ,gay men in manhatten ,sanfran,la,chicargo were the first guinnie pigs then african blacks in the congo please read dr alan cantwells books,queer blood ,and aids and the doctors of death and it will show you how and wot the carter adminnistration was up to..MONSTERS

  20. Andy Worthington says...

    I hadn’t heard of that book, Damo. Will look into it.

  21. damo68 says...

    there was no such thing as the green monkey hiv is a biowepon here is its patent number..[htlv 111,4647773]and here is the patent number for the vaccine [htlv 111 vaccine no 5676977] there is so much proof now out there we just need someone to whistleblower ,dr alan cantwells books were buryied by the mainstreem media as was the times exposure in 1986..jimmy carter has a lot to answer for…

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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