Image credit: U.S. National Archives/Wikimedia
In a "Quote Of The Day" three weeks ago, I wrote that there were few prominent progressives these days who have openly criticized the Obama Administration's abysmal record on human rights, and on the seemingly unlimited use of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV, more commonly referred to as "drone") attacks on people who may or may not have had something to do with terrorism. Sunday in the New York Times, a very prominent progressive added his name to the list:
While the country has made mistakes in the past, the widespread abuse of human rights over the last decade has been a dramatic change from the past. With leadership from the United States, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in 1948 as “the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.” This was a bold and clear commitment that power would no longer serve as a cover to oppress or injure people, and it established equal rights of all people to life, liberty, security of person, equal protection of the law and freedom from torture, arbitrary detention or forced exile.
A Cruel and Unusual Record
The op-ed was written by President Jimmy Carter. That paragraph is pure Jimmy Carter - idealistic almost to the point of not recognizing some basic truths. One of Carter's catch phrases when he was running for President was that America's foreign policy should reflect the morality of its people. I sometimes think it does even today, given what some of us think should be our foreign policy. What's more, as a read through the chapters covering our Senate's reluctant signing of the U.N. declaration on genocide in Samantha Powers' A Problem From Hell should remind us, our path to signing onto things like the U.N. Declaration has often been a rocky one.
Still, I like to think that, at heart, we're a people who want to elect leaders wise enough to avoid unnecessary bloodshed, and who will respect the rights of their own citizens even if that's a rather inconvenient practice. Neither is the case today, as President Carter goes on to remind us:
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.
A Cruel and Unusual Record
Caption: A U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper UAV, in 2007. It's air power without consequences, at least for the people deciding whether to use them or not.
Image credit: U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson/Wikimedia
That last paragraph explains why concern over innocent deaths isn't just some namby-pamby librul value. Every dead innocent, in a country where people are inclined to distrust us anyway, is one more blow for future terrorism. Only bigots who think that somehow other people will be cowed or subservient in situations where we wouldn't accept such things would think otherwise.
As someone who voted for John Andersen back in 1980 because he was appalled at Carter's inability to run the government, I have to say that the guy has made up for those mistakes since then. As Glenn Greenwald noted in passing, he earned his Nobel Peace Prize, in contrast to a more recent winner.
He certainly demonstrated yesterday that he still deserves that Nobel, if only by being one of the rare people among his party to dissent on this issue publicly. Of course, the man always was an idealist, and that has always made him something of an outsider. That's yet another reason to be suspicious whenever we're lectured by DC insiders about how things really work, and how we just have to be "realists". While I didn't think so quite so much back in 1980, I appreciate that idealism now.