DES MOINES – Former President Jimmy Carter said Thursday that America is engaging in — and its citizens are accepting — human rights violations that “would never have been dreamed of” before the terrorist attacks that occurred in this country 11 years ago.
The nation’s 39th president said the U.S. government under both Republican and Democratic administrations has violated 10 of 30 provisions set out in a universal declaration of human rights that was forged after World War II, including perpetually detaining people in prison without informing them of any charges, providing them access to legal counsel or bringing them to trial and, more recently, by killing people via the use of unmanned drones.
“We have now decided as a nation that it’s OK to kill people without a trial with our drones, and this includes former American citizens who are looked upon as dangerous to us,” Carter told a group of Drake University students involved in a social-justice learning program.
“Not just terrorists, but innocent participants in weddings and so forth that happen to be there. I think this is acting in a way that turns people against us unnecessarily because there is a great deal of animosity about the United States that is unnecessary, in my opinion, because our drones are performing these things” in places like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and even in the Philippines, he said.
“These are the kinds of actions that would never have been dreamed of before 9/11,” Carter noted, referencing the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
“I think we need to go back to the purity of the guarantees of basic human rights,” he added. “Most Americans either don’t know about it or accept it. I’m not criticizing one leader compared to another because both Democratic and Republican leaders are participating in these violations. We should all look upon human rights as something that is precious to us because we need to get back and be the champion of human rights and I believe the champion of peace as well.”
Carter, a Georgia Democrat who served as U.S. president from 1977-81, and his wife, Rosalynn – founders of The Carter Center – delivered the 29th Martin Bucksbaum Distinguished Lecture on Thursday evening at Drake’s Knapp Center. Before that event, the former president and 2002 Nobel Peace Prize recipient and his wife heard students discuss a wide range of social justice they are involved in, descriptions that the Carters found emotionally moving.
During a question-and-answer session, the former president addressed a number of international topics.
Carter disagreed with delegates to his Democratic Party’s national convention who restored a platform position that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, saying the same thing happened when he was running for president in the 1970s and he made a public announcement in opposition to it. He said the best hope for peace in the Middle East is a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine with Jerusalem as a shared capital.
“I personally think that’s a mistake for the Democratic and Republican parties to call for Jerusalem to be the capital just for the Jews,” he said.
Carter did not discuss the heightened security at American embassies and consulates around the world after an attack this week that killed the U.S. ambassador in Libya, but he parted ways with President Obama on the question of whether Egypt is an American ally after Obama told an interviewer that “I don’t think that we would consider them an ally, but we don’t consider them an enemy” after protesters attacked the U.S. embassy in Cairo this week.
Carter, who knows Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi personally and monitored recent elections in Egypt and Libya, said Egypt is an ally of the United States and “we ought to make sure that we continue the long-standing friendship we’ve had” by encouraging efforts to forge a democratic Egyptian government.
He noted that after the U.S. independence in 1776, it took a dozen years to finalize the constitution and solidify the government, “so we can’t expect the Egyptians to do it in less than one year. I think we have to be patient with them and let them find their own way, but give them support so they won’t go in the wrong direction,” Carter said.
On the civil strife in Syria, Carter said it would not be appropriate for the United States to intervene militarily, but he would like to see the United Nations call for free elections that would allow the people to choose the nation’s future direction.