Cruel & Unusual
Former President / Nobel Laureate Carter: Obama’s War
Policies “Would Have Been Unthinkable in Previous Times”
Only four United States presidents have received the Nobel Peace Prize. Teddy Roosevelt was the first, in 1906, for his role in negotiating an end to the bloody Russo-Japanese War. Woodrow Wilson received the award in 1919, largely in recognition of his role in creating the League of Nations, forerunner of the United Nations.
After a more than 80-year gap, former President Jimmy Carter was awarded the Peace Prize in 2002, more for his lifelong engagement in international peacemaking and reconciliation after leaving office than for his accomplishments in the White House (although those did include midwifing the Camp David Accords between Egypt and Israel, the SALT II treaty with the Soviet Union, and establishment of diplomatic relations with China.)
In 2009, When Barack Obama became the fourth U.S. president so honored, it seemed, as many commentators noted – and as he himself acknowledged in his Nobel lecture – more an act of hope than a recognition of accomplishment. He had, after all, barely taken office. Yet, after eight years of George Bush, hope was pretty much all we had left, and his words to the Nobel dignitaries sounded the right themes.
“Where force is necessary, we have a moral and strategic interest in binding ourselves to certain rules of conduct. And even as we confront a vicious adversary that abides by no rules, I believe the United States of America must remain a standard bearer in the conduct of war. That is what makes us different from those whom we fight. That is a source of our strength. That is why I prohibited torture. That is why I ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed. And that is why I have reaffirmed America’s commitment to abide by the Geneva Conventions. We lose ourselves when we compromise the very ideals that we fight to defend. And we honor – we honor those ideals by upholding them not when it’s easy, but when it is hard.”
Well, as Obama’s first term comes to a close, it seems like he’s done a lot more compromising than upholding. Guantanamo remains open and, if some of our more egregious forms of torture have been put on hold, none of those responsible for the tortures and renditions committed by the prior administration have been called to account – or will be. Our nation is carrying out robot killings of people in countries with which we have not declared war, and the Obama administration takes the position that we are not entitled to know about it – except when the information might help his reelection chances.
In a recent New York Times op ed piece entitled “A Cruel and Unusual Record,” his predecessor at the Nobel podium, former President Jimmy Carter, took Obama to task:
“Revelations that top officials are targeting people to be assassinated abroad, including American citizens, are only the most recent, disturbing proof of how far our nation’s violation of human rights has extended…This development…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…”
In addition to targeted assassination, Carter criticized legislation that authorizes the administration to detain suspects indefinitely without trial, and to invade the privacy of U.S. citizens through warrantless wiretapping and electronic “data-mining.” But his primary focus was on the government’s assertion of an unfettered right to use deadly force abroad, outside the laws of war.
“[A]ny man killed by drones is declared an enemy terrorist, the death of nearby innocent women and children is accepted as inevitable…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.”
At a time when popular revolutions are sweeping the globe, the United States should be strengthening, not weakening, basic rules of international law and the principles enumerated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But instead of making the world safer, America’s violations of international human rights abet our enemies and alienate our friends.
Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden may be dead but – as we empty our pockets, raise our arms and spread our legs for the TSA – does anybody really think we’re any safer than we were eleven years ago?
…………Fighting Torture More Than One Day a Year