28 June 2012

Carter Calls Out US Human Rights Record

Former President Jimmy Carter wrote a pointed OpEd in the New York Times on the waning leadership by the United States in the area of human rights. He writes (emphasis added):
Recent legislation has 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 (the law is currently being blocked by a federal judge). This law violates the right to freedom of expression and to be presumed innocent until proved guilty, two other rights enshrined in the declaration. 
In addition to American citizens’ being targeted for assassination or indefinite detention, 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. Popular state laws permit detaining individuals because of their appearance, where they worship or with whom they associate. 
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. 
These policies clearly affect American foreign policy. Top intelligence and military officials, as well as rights defenders in targeted areas, affirm that the great escalation in drone attacks has turned aggrieved families toward terrorist organizations, aroused civilian populations against us and permitted repressive governments to cite such actions to justify their own despotic behavior.
He concludes saying (emphasis added):
At a time 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, America’s violation of international human rights abets our enemies and alienates our friends.
Conor Friedersdorf wonders aloud in The Atlantic why more people are not throwing their support behind the former president.
If there is a more extreme example of a prominent politician breaking with his fellow elites I don't know what it is. But he is saying things most people don't want to hear, so a past president accusing other presidents of violating the law and trampling on human rights is all but ignored. 
The challenge is that 'human rights' can be seen as a politically loaded word. Conservative pundits will lambaste the invocation of the phrase seeing it as an opponent to individual freedoms. Though Carter has gone rogue by taking aim at both sides of the aisle, his rights based argument is seen through a political lens. Because of that, it is not surprising that Carter does not get wide support.

Remember, there are Americans who see Iraq as necessary and liberating, would gladly support racial profiling and think extraordinary rendition is acceptable. That is the extreme side of a general view that human rights can stand in the way of liberty and justice. Supporters of a rights-based approach, like Carter, need to connect human rights back to individual freedoms as the two are so closely tied together.