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The Carter Critique

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, October 11, 2007; 1:10 PM

Former president Jimmy Carter is once again lambasting the current occupants of the White House.

In one interview yesterday, Carter accused President Bush of abandoning the basic principles of human rights, engaging in torture, and lying about it. In another, he called Vice President Cheney a disaster for our country and a militant who is "trying again to promote once again what might well be a counterproductive and catastrophic military venture."

While it's traditional for former presidents to show some deference to their successors, this is not the first time Carter has publicly scolded Bush. Back in May, for instance, he infuriated the White House by calling Bush the worst president of all time when it comes to international relations. A Bush spokesman responded by calling Carter "increasingly irrelevant."

Carter may or may not be politically irrelevant, but the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize winner's critique is certainly timely -- coming as Bush's torture policy and Cheney's itchy trigger finger continue to provoke controversy.

Carter's Words

Here's the video and transcript of Carter's appearance on CNN with Wolf Blitzer yesterday.

Carter: "I think the entirety of the global human rights community . . . would agree with the fact that our country, for the first time in my lifetime, has abandoned the basic principles of human rights. . . .

Blitzer: "President Bush said as recently as this week the United States does not torture detainees."

Carter: "That's not an accurate statement if you use the international norms of torture as has always been honored, certainly in the last 60 years, since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was promulgated. But you can make your own definition of human rights and say, 'We don't violate them.' And we can -- you can make your own definition of torture and say 'We don't violate it.'"

Blitzer: "But by your definition, you believe the United States, under this administration, has used torture."

Carter: "I don't think it, I know it, certainly."

Blitze: "So is the president lying?"

Carter: "The president is self-defining what we have done and authorized in the torture of prisoners, yes."

Here's the video of Carter's interview with the BBC's Matt Frei, discussing Cheney's preference for force over diplomacy.

"As usual, Dick Cheney is wrong," Carter said. "He's a militant who avoided any service of his own in the military and he has been most forceful in the last 10 years or more in fulfilling some of his more ancient commitments that the United States has a right to inject its power through military means in other parts of the world. And here he's trying again to promote once again what might well be a counterproductive and catastrophic military venture. . . .

"You know, he's been a disaster for our country. I think he's been overly persuasive on President George Bush and quite often he's prevailed.

"One of his main commitments was to go into Iraq on false pretenses and he still maintains that those false pretenses are accurate."

Reuters reports: "Asked to comment on Carter's remarks, Megan Mitchell, a spokeswoman for the Republican vice president, said, 'We're not going to engage in this type of rhetoric.'"

Carter was a guest on CBS's Early Show yesterday, where he said that diplomacy, not military action, "definitely" remains the best approach to dealing with Iran. Here's the video, parts one and two.

Carter also sat down with the New York Times. Patricia Cohen writes: "Since his brokering of the Camp David peace accord between Egypt and Israel in 1978, the Middle East has devoured more of his time, effort and heart than any other single issue, he said, yet the situation is much worse today. 'We've had seven years now without a single day of good faith, substantive talks,' he said, calling President Bush's failure to pursue a resolution aggressively 'unconscionable.'"

The Critique of Carter

It didn't take long for the Carter-bashing to start.

Here's the video and transcript of Dan Abrams on MSNBC last night. Abrams started off agreeing with Carter: "Cheney has no credibility anymore. None. . . . I don't agree with Jimmy Carter on a lot of things but applaud him for speaking out against Cheney."

But the central question Abrams put to his panelists -- Joan Walsh of Salon.com, ultra-conservative firebrand Pat Buchanan and Washington Post reporter Dana Milbank -- was: "[I]s it helpful for those who oppose Cheney to have Jimmy Carter out there speaking against him?"

Walsh said it was: "I know that the right is going to poke fun at Carter but he's been a great ex president. . . . And Dick Cheney is a disaster. He is a militant. He has a lot to be ashamed of. He did duck Vietnam because he had other priorities. And he is now responsible for thousands of Americans dying in Iraq."

Abrams turned to Milbank: "But Dana, I wonder whether having Carter out there just serves as Joan points out as fodder for the right to simply mock Carter and, also then mock the entire issue of Cheney and his influence."

Milbank: "I don't think it helps Carter either. He's become like Michael Moore. It's sort of like this version of Tourette's syndrome every now and then. He blurts out: 'It's the worst administration in history.'"

Walsh: "Well, it is Dana."

Milbank: "That's fine to say. But to have a previous president doing that, I think it demeans Jimmy Carter to say it. Leaving aside whether it's truthful or not -- and it just allows everybody to say, yes, let's bring back the Democrats of 1979."

Buchanan: "Let me agree with Dana on this. Look, there is a real, serious problem about whether we should go to war in Iran and I would agree with President Jimmy Carter if he spoke out on this. But to be attacking the vice president personally over his lack of military service and saying that he's the worst vice president? He diminishes himself constantly and he has not been a good ex-president in my judgment."

The Battle Over Genocide

Steven Lee Myers and Carl Hulse write in the New York Times: "A House committee voted on Wednesday to condemn the mass killings of Armenians in Turkey in World War I as an act of genocide, rebuffing an intense campaign by the White House and warnings from Turkey's government that the vote would gravely strain its relations with the United States. . . .

"Backers of the resolution said Congressional action was overdue.

"'Despite President George Bush twisting arms and making deals, justice prevailed,' said Representative Brad Sherman, a Democrat of California and a sponsor of the resolution. 'For if we hope to stop future genocides we need to admit to those horrific acts of the past.'"

Elizabeth Williamson writes in The Washington Post: "Turkey, one of Washington's most staunch Islamic allies, lobbied hard to kill the measure, launching a multimillion dollar campaign and threatening to curtail its cooperation in the Iraq war. President Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates were joined by eight former secretaries of state and three former defense secretaries in condemning the proposal."

From yesterday's briefing by White House Press Secretary Dana Perino:

Question: "Is Turkey blackmailing the United States?"

Perino: "Absolutely not."

A Blow for Bush on Immigration

Spencer S. Hsu writes in The Washington Post: "A federal judge barred the Bush administration yesterday from launching a planned crackdown on U.S. companies that employ illegal immigrants, warning of its potentially 'staggering' impact on law-abiding workers and companies.

"In a firm rebuke of the White House, U.S. District Judge Charles R. Breyer of San Francisco granted a preliminary injunction against the president's plan to press employers to fire as many as 8.7 million workers with suspect Social Security numbers, starting this fall.

"President Bush made the effort the centerpiece of a re-energized enforcement drive against illegal immigration in August after the Senate rejected his proposal to overhaul immigration laws. But the court ruling -- sought by major American labor, business and farm organizations -- highlighted the chasm that the issue has opened between the Republican Party and its traditional business allies.

"The case also called attention to the gulf between Washington rhetoric about the need to curtail illegal immigration and the economic reality that many U.S. employers rely on illegal labor, as well as to the government's inability for nearly three decades to develop adequate tools for identifying undocumented workers."

Torture Watch

The Boston Globe editorial board writes: "When Congress passed an anti-torture law in 2005, it was bad enough that President Bush had his fingers crossed, quietly adding a signing statement allowing him to ignore its terms. Now it turns out that lawyers in his Justice Department had previously issued secret memos, never retracted, authorizing harsh interrogation methods that conflict with the law's ban on 'cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.' Congress should require the administration to provide the memos and explain - if it can - why they do not violate the 2005 law. . . .

"Techniques like water-boarding conflict with the country's deepest values, while the administration's hushing up of its memos challenges the basic principle that we are a nation of laws. The Bush administration let Congress pass a law setting standards for interrogations that the administration had already decided - in secret - that it could ignore. Congress will deserve the low approval ratings it gets from the public if it lets itself be made a mockery of in this way."

Ronald Kessler, a reliable conduit of the White House line, writes for Newsmax.com: "The flap over a New York Times report on Justice Department memos from 2005 discussing CIA interrogation techniques is yet another example of the press' efforts to distort the Bush administration's actions.

"The story, which led the paper, implied that the administration secretly approved harsh interrogation techniques that could be interpreted as torture.

"In fact, while the memos said head-slapping, simulated drowning, and frigid temperatures could be legally justified, they never condoned outright torture, which the CIA believes can produce bogus information."

Those, Kessler explains, are more accurately described as "coercive interrogation techniques [that] involve extreme discomfort as opposed to torture."

By contrast, Phil Ward writes in a letter to the editor of the Miami Herald: "I am a counterintelligence agent who served in Vietnam while in the U.S. Army. . . .

"When I read about such tactics as head slapping, using frigid temperatures and simulated drowning. . . . If I had been captured and subjected to these techniques, I would have considered it torture. Further, I would hope my country would have raised hell about these tactics.

"As Americans, we know right from wrong and interrogation from torture. If President Bush and the administration believe that these actions are what America stands for, then shame on them. If we believe it, then shame on us."

Sidney Blumenthal writes in his Salon opinion column: "Torture is state-sanctioned deviant behavior. It is degrading, arbitrary, cruel and illegal. As all responsible intelligence officers know, torture is the least productive technique of all, and torture yields inherently tainted information. Torture destroys the humanity of more than those tortured. It destroys the souls of those performing the torture. When Americans torture, Americans are shattered. Torture feeds secrecy. It undermines democracy. And it is shameful. Even the Gestapo and the KGB tried to hide their torture. Torture is considered uncivilized by most of the world's nations. At the Nuremberg war crimes tribunals, the U.S. tried, convicted and executed Nazi leaders for engaging in torture. Those that do not adhere to international treaties against torture are rightly branded rogue nations. Torture is the mark of tyrannies."

Warrantless Wiretapping Watch

Pamela Hess writes for the Associated Press: "House Democrats pushed their government eavesdropping bill through two committees Wednesday with only minor changes, setting the stage for a confrontation with the Bush administration.

"President Bush said that he will not sign the bill if it does not give retroactive immunity to U.S. telecommunications companies that helped conduct electronic surveillance without court orders."

Here's a FISA FAQ from USA Today.

Gonzales Watch

Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball write for Newsweek: "No sooner did Alberto Gonzales resign as attorney general last month than he retained a high-powered Washington criminal-defense lawyer to represent him in continuing inquiries by Congress and the Justice Department.

"Gonzales's choice of counsel, George Terwilliger -- a partner at White & Case -- is ironic if not surprising. A former deputy attorney general under the first President Bush, who later helped oversee GOP lawyers in the epic Florida recount battle of 2000, Terwilliger had been a White House finalist to replace Gonzales -- only to be aced out at the last minute by retired federal judge Michael Mukasey.

"The top concern for Gonzales, and now Terwilliger, is the expanding investigation by Glenn Fine, the Justice Department's fiercely independent inspector general, according to three legal sources familiar with the matter who declined to speak publicly about ongoing investigations. Originally, Fine's internal Justice probe -- conducted in conjunction with lawyers from the department's Office of Professional Responsibility -- focused on the mass dismissal of U.S. attorneys late last year. The investigation has since broadened to include, among other matters, charges that Gonzales lied to Congress about the Bush administration's warrantless surveillance program and the circumstances surrounding his late-night March 10, 2004, visit to the hospital room of then attorney general John Ashcroft. At the same time, Congress is continuing to pursue more documents on harsh CIA interrogation techniques approved by Gonzales. . . .

"One former administration official close to Gonzales's team (who, like others interviewed for this story, requested anonymity in talking about an ongoing probe) said the former attorney general is concerned that Fine may end up making a criminal referral to the Public Integrity Section of the Justice Department -- or even seek the appointment of a special counsel to determine if Gonzales made false statements to Congress."

Conflicts of Interest

Susan Schmidt and Dafna Linzer write in The Washington Post that Mukasey was at one point seriously considered for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit.

"Mukasey was invited to Washington in the spring of 2002 and impressed lawyers from the White House and the Justice Department, several people familiar with the interview recalled.

"But that June, 'dirty bomb' suspect Jose Padilla was declared an enemy combatant by President Bush. When Padilla's lawyers challenged the government's action, Mukasey drew the case. White House lawyers decided they could not offer Mukasey the appellate post without seeming to undermine his impartiality in a case important to the administration, those familiar with the issue said."

That sounds very noble -- and yet it's also not particularly plausible. No such scruples, for instance, prevented the White House from interviewing and grooming John Roberts for his Supreme Court nomination as he was presiding over a case brought by Guantanamo detainee Salim Ahmed Hamdan, challenging the president's military commissions. Roberts (who could also have recused himself) ruled for the government -- and was later overturned by his new colleagues on the Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, the Associated Press reports: "Confirmation hearings for Michael Mukasey, President Bush's nominee for attorney general, will begin Oct. 17, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy said Wednesday.

"Leahy, D-Vt., said the proceedings will center on the Justice Department's 'plummeting morale' under the stewardship of Alberto Gonzales, who resigned in August. Democrats and some Republicans have made clear that other topics on the agenda include the administration's legal basis for Bush's controversial eavesdropping program and the extent to which Mukasey would allow the White House to dictate political decisions to the traditionally independent federal law enforcement agency."

Karl Rove Watch

Philip Shenon writes in the New York Times: "The son of Alabama's current Republican governor boasted that a Republican judge would 'hang Don Siegelman,' a former Democratic governor of Alabama, for partisan reasons, according to a deposition by a Republican lawyer from Alabama.

"The lawyer, Jill Simpson, testified in a case about accusations of White House interference in the Justice Department's corruption case against Mr. Siegelman, who is serving an 88-month sentence. A transcript of the deposition was released Wednesday by the House Judiciary Committee. . . .

"Ms. Simpson first said she was told in 2005 by a key Republican strategist in Alabama that Karl Rove, President Bush's former top political aide, had pushed the Justice Department to bring corruption charges against Mr. Siegelman. . . .

"The White House has denied the accusations on behalf of Mr. Rove, and Justice Department officials have rejected claims of political interference in the investigation. 'Karl has made clear that he had no involvement in that issue at all,' a White House spokesman, Tony Fratto, said."

Marcy Wheeler blogs some key excerpts from Simpson's testimony in which Simpson says she was told that Rove directly pressured the head of the Justice Department's Public Integrity Section to devote resources to the Siegelman prosecution.

And Adam Cohen writes in a New York Times opinion piece with new evidence that the Justice Department's use of criminal prosecutions to help Republicans win elections extended to Mississippi.

State Secrets

The Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to hear a lawsuit from a German car salesman who said he was wrongly abducted, imprisoned and tortured by the CIA in a case of mistaken identity -- effectively upholding the government's assertion of a "state secrets" privilege to not answer any questions about the case.

The New York Times editorial board writes: "In effect, the Supreme Court has granted the government immunity for subjecting [Khaled el-Masri] to 'extraordinary rendition,' the morally and legally unsupportable United States practice of transporting foreign nationals to be interrogated in other countries known to use torture and lacking basic legal protections. It's hard to imagine what, at this point, needs to be kept secret, other than the ways in which the administration behaved irresponsibly, and quite possibly illegally, in the Masri case. And Mr. Masri is not the only innocent man kidnapped by American agents and subjected to abuse and torture in a foreign country. He's just the only one whose lawsuit got this far.

"This unsatisfactory outcome gives rise to new worries about the current Supreme Court's resolve to perform its crucial oversight role -- particularly with other cases related to terrorism in the pipeline and last week's disclosure of secret 2005 Justice Department memos authorizing the use of inhumane interrogation methods that just about everyone except the Bush White House thinks of as torture."

The Los Angeles Times editorial board writes that "the court's refusal to hear El-Masri's appeal shouldn't be the end of the story. This country has an obligation to apologize to -- and compensate -- victims of an anti-terrorist operation gone awry. And judicial inaction actually strengthens the case for action by Congress to prevent the CIA from committing such outrages in the future. Even when there is no case of mistaken identity, the United States shouldn't be spiriting suspects away to secret prisons abroad where they can be subjected to 'enhanced interrogation techniques.'"

The Elephant in the Room

Don Frederick blogs for the Tribune News Service about "[t]he name that Republicans dare not mention.

"The official transcript from MSNBC of Tuesday's debate among the Republican presidential candidates does, indeed, make it official: The men vying to keep the White House in GOP hands appear loath to utter the current occupant's name.

"The panel of questioners made direct mention of President Bush (or the 'Bush administration') seven times. The forum focused on the economy, which Bush aggressively influenced through a series of tax cuts. And the debate included an extended discussion of the war in Iraq, the defining issue of his presidency.

"Yet in their responses, Bush's name did not escape the lips of any of the candidates with even a ghost of a chance of capturing the Republican nomination. And this omission occurred over two hours--longer than the usual 90-minute face-offs."

Bush v. Texas

Robert Barnes writes in The Washington Post about the spirited exchanges yesterday in oral arguments about a Texas death penalty case that "involves the power of the judiciary, the authority of the World Court, the role of Congress in enforcing treaties and the ability of states to ignore a direct order from the president."

Dahlia Lithwick writes for Slate that "the best part" of the case "is that if you are a casual spectator attempting to pick out the 'good guys,' here's your choice: the state of Texas and its relentless quest to execute its people without regard to moral, international, or legal norms, versus the Bush administration and its claim to broad new executive authority to boss around state judges."

Send Out the First Lady

Kerry Sheridan writes for AFP: "First Lady Laura Bush, who once maintained a low profile when it came to international affairs, has stepped into the diplomatic spotlight by becoming a top US critic of Myanmar's military junta."

Ed Henry explains the White House thinking on CNN: "It's quite simple. The president's own credibility on foreign policy has obviously taken a hit, in large part because of the war in Iraq, and it's of great political benefit for this White House to have someone with a softer image, First Lady Laura Bush, weighing in on such a critical foreign policy matter."

No Nobel for Bush

Bunny Nooryani writes for Bloomberg that Centrebet, Australia's biggest online bookmaker, is offering 7-2 odds on former vice president Al Gore winning this year's Nobel Peace Prize. Bush, by contrast, is a 250-1 shot.

Late Night Humor

Jay Leno, via U.S. News: "President Bush says these rumors that he's just getting ready to attack Iran are propaganda. He said he and Cheney were ready months ago."

Cartoon Watch

Dan Wasserman and Matt Davies on torture; Ann Telnaes on Cheney's thoughts.

Jon Stewart Watch

Here are parts one and two of Jon Stewart's interview with Lynne Cheney last night. The vice president's wife, who is on a book tour, brought him a Darth Vader doll as a gift. Stewart was polite and largely deferential. The audience only hissed once.

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