US May Still Reclaim its Moral Authority
by Fmr President Jimmy Carter
The advancement of human rights around the world was a cornerstone of foreign policy and US leadership for decades, until the attacks on our country on September 11, 2001. Since then, while Americans continue to espouse freedom and democracy, our government’s abusive practices have undermined struggles for freedom in many parts of the world. As the gross abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay were revealed, the United States lost its mantle as a champion of human rights, eliminating our national ability to speak credibly on the subject, let alone restrain or gain concessions from oppressors. Tragically, a global backlash against democracy and rights activists, who are now the targets of abuse, has followed. The advancement of human rights and democracy is necessary for global stability and can be achieved only through the local, often heroic, efforts of individuals who speak out against injustice and oppression — endeavours the United States should lead, not impede. If the early warnings of human rights activists had been heeded and tough diplomacy and timely intervention mobilized, the horrific, and in some cases ongoing, violence in Bosnia, Rwanda, Sudan’s Darfur region and the Democratic Republic of the Congo might have been averted. This week marks the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. With a new administration and a new vision coming to the White House, we have the opportunity to move boldly to restore the moral authority behind the worldwide human rights movement. But the first steps must be taken at home.
President-elect Barack Obama has pledged to shut down the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay and end torture, which can be accomplished by executive orders to close the prison and by enforcing existing prohibitions against torture by any US representative, including FBI and CIA agents. The detention of people secretly or indefinitely and without due process must cease, and their cases should be transferred to our courts, which have proved their competence in trying those accused of terrorism. By putting its house in order, the United States would reclaim its moral authority and wield not only the political capital but also the credibility needed to engage in frank but respectful bilateral dialogues on the protection of human rights as central to world peace and prosperity.