Courage of His Convictions

Most historians give Jimmy Carter poor grades as a president. Whether or not one agrees, one would have to admit he has shown himself to be an outspoken defender of human rights and a man determined to make his world a better place than he found it. Thus, though he may not have been the best of presidents, since leaving office he has shown himself to be the best of men in an age when there are very few we can point to with pride and say with conviction, “he (or she) is a good person.”

But the latest step he has taken shows not only his exceptional concern for human rights — not just the rights of American citizens — but also the courage to criticize a standing president from his own political party in an election year. As ABC News recently reported, Carter has written an op-ed piece for the New York Times in which he takes Obama to task for violating human rights in allowing (ordering?) drone kills that have taken not only the lives of terrorists, but of an unknown number of innocent victims as well. He also faults Obama for failing to act on his promise to close the prison at Guantanamo. As the report states, quoting Carter,

“Instead of making the world safer, America’s violation of international human rights abets our enemies and alienates our friends.” The news story continues as follows:

While the total number of attacks from unmanned aircraft, or drones, and the resulting casualties are murky, the New America Foundation estimates that in Pakistan alone 265 drone strikes have been executed since January 2009 . Those strikes have killed at least 1,488 people, at least 1,343 of them considered militants, the foundation estimates based on news reports and other sources.

In addition to the drone strikes, Carter criticized the current president for keeping the Guantanamo Bay detention center open, where prisoners “have been tortured by waterboarding more than 100 times or intimidated with semiautomatic weapons, power drills or threats to sexually assault their mothers.”

Assuming that President Carter has his facts straight (and we are in no position to know, though we might suspect that as a former President he would be privy to information the rest of us are not) these charges are alarming and deeply disturbing. We might have expected these sorts of actions of his predecessor, but we had hoped that this President, the President of “Change,” would bring a new moral order to the White House, if not a new political order — that he would take the moral high ground. Instead, he has disappointed those of us who expected (hoped?) for better.

It is true, as one of my fellow bloggers said in an earlier blog (May 12, 2012), that we do not know all the whys and wherefores that go into making decisions at the highest levels in this country. It is certainly the case that as soon as Obama began to deliver on his promise to close Guantanamo he met with stiff resistance. And the drone kills may have some sort of strange rationale that I simply cannot fathom. And while it is true that the “war on terror” started years after Carter left the White House, nevertheless he does have credibility and never loses sight of the wider canvas. He knows it’s not all about elections and politics — or even “the economy.” We need to listen to what he has to say and take him seriously.