October 10th, 2007
04:01 PM ET
9 years ago

Carter: America tortures

Watch Wolf Blitzer's interview with former President Jimmy Carter.

WASHINGTON (CNN) - Former President Jimmy Carter said Wednesday he is convinced the United States engages in torture that clearly breaches international law and told CNN President Bush creates his own definition of human rights to escape violating them.

"I don't think it. I know it, certainly." the former president told CNN's Wolf Blitzer when asked if he thinks the United States commits torture.

"Our country for the first time in my lifetime has abandoned the basic principle of human rights," Carter continued. "We've said that the Geneva Convention does not apply to those people in Abu Ghraib prison and Guantanamo, and we’ve said we can torture prisoners and deprive them of an accusation of a crime to which they are accused."

Carter's comments come on the heels of a New York Times report that disclosed the existence of secret Justice Department documents supporting the use of "harsh interrogation techniques" including, according to the Times, "head-slapping, simulated drowning, and frigid temperatures."

Last week, the White House confirmed the existence of the documents though would not make them public. Responding to the report last Friday, Bush defended the techniques used and said, “This government does not torture people.”

Asked about the president's comments, Carter said, "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 you can make your own definition of torture and say we don't violate them," Carter added.

Responding to Carter's comments, a senior White House official said, "Our position is clear. We don't torture. It's just sad to hear a former president speak like that."

Watch the full interview with Carter tonight on The Situation Room, 7 p.m. ET. 

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soundoff (279 Responses)
  1. elissaF, Buffalo NY

    Wow. You folks don't remember that at the time of the hostage crisis, Carter had tried house-cleaning at the CIA, GHW Bush was the Director of the CIA, and a deal was cut between the displaced rogue elements of the CIA and revolutionary Iran. This was the Iran-Contral scandal. Part of the agreement included the non-release of the hostages, in order to ruin Carter's chances at reelection.

    There is no way in hell that Reagan takes credit for releasing he hostages, on his swearing-in day. He wasn't yet president! In fact, he and Bush 41 deserve all the blame for their extended stay.

    October 10, 2007 11:38 pm at 11:38 pm |
  2. Tracie, Pell City AL

    Gee I dont ever recall President Carter ever making idiotic mistakes like Bush. Sad to hear the White House denounce a former PRESIDENT with a PROVEN track record!!

    October 10, 2007 11:47 pm at 11:47 pm |
  3. NualaK, Alhambra, CA

    Reagan had already promised the Iranian's "Arms for Hostages", otherwise, give me one good reason why Iran released them as soon as Reagan was sworn in. Jimmy Carter would not stoop so low and bore the brunt of criticism for not buying the Hostages out. The interest rates and inflation was so high because the country was paying back the enormous debt for the Vietnam war. Something to look forward to for the next 25 years. Thank you George Bush.

    October 10, 2007 11:57 pm at 11:57 pm |
  4. shj

    Carter is great compared to bush,i remeber those free peanut butter days and peanuts.

    October 11, 2007 12:56 am at 12:56 am |
  5. Sean, Eugene OR

    Dear Echo,

    Clinton WAS impeached (but not convicted) for lying to a Grand Jury of the United States.

    It is simply an historical fact.

    October 11, 2007 01:14 am at 1:14 am |
  6. Kids n Tow

    Jimmy Carter is honest, loyal to good and truth, and one of the last true patriots we have in this country. Thoes who continue to bash this great humanitarian harbor hate and preach distruction. It amazes me how self loathing some can be when it comes to the values of our country.

    October 11, 2007 01:21 am at 1:21 am |
  7. Tom, Belgium

    "the USA was the joke of the world during this time."

    Well, for your information, Thomas. The USA is the joke of the world as this time! The reputation of a free nation is down the drain with the terror-reign going on right now. But of course the 55% op americans who reelected a no-brain bush is just too blind to see it, or saw it too late.

    October 11, 2007 03:27 am at 3:27 am |
  8. Dan, US Military, England

    First poster "Dave", you need to check yourself. The CIA is performing, and encouraging torture. While some in the military have falling victim to the CIA's perceived authority in this area (i.e. Abu Ghraib) and followed their instructions, it is strictly forbidden in the military and we are trained to know this and abide by it. The military as an institution does not torture. The CIA, yes, they torture, always have. Where does it get us? Nowhere. Use Al Zachari as a case study. Where did he get his hatred of the west? Maybe it was when he was being tortured by Egyptians under the tutelage of CIA professionals. The sad truth is torture has been long discredited as an information gathering tool. So why does the CIA still do it? Simple, a great many Americans find comfort in knowing that somewhere a brown man with a funny religion is getting the crap kicked out of him 24/7 in response to 9-11. So "Dave" lay off the military would you? We are merely a tool of government foreign policy. Put in an impossible place with an impossible mission. How exactly we are supposed to rectify 100 years of greedy ham-fisted western foreign policy with a whole lot of bombs and bullets is beyond me. It is up to you, the citizenry to hold the government accountable. If you don't like how they are employing your military or your CIA tell them!

    October 11, 2007 03:44 am at 3:44 am |
  9. Alan, The Hague, The Netherlands

    Bob from Seattle needs a history lesson. It was Regan and his cronies that made a deal with Iraq so they would hold the hostages until after the election of 1980, so big actor/little man Reagan could win votes. It worked. The hostages were released quid pro-quo in exchange for weapons which Reagan and his henchmen gladly delivered later that same year. Just another example of republican machivallian manoevers that gets the US into repeated disasters. It is the honest and decent men like Carter who fall the victim to these immoral acts – while the majority of republicans blindly fall for continuous disinformation churned out by their own republican leaders. Shame on them! And shame on those that follow un-questioning, in contradiction of facts and ignorant of history. They would rather have a 'strong' man to follow than be incumbered with reality. And again, Carter speaks the truth to help repair our constitution – while he is meligned liars and power worshipers. Alan, The Netherlands

    October 11, 2007 04:15 am at 4:15 am |
  10. Joseph G., Belgium

    Someone left a comment saying that the USA was the joke of the world during Carter's presidency.

    USA is again the joke of the world. But nobody laughs at this "joke". Bush lies, steals, cheats, kills, and the list goes on.

    I can't understand how one can still find people trying to justify his (mis)deeds. The huge damage he as done will probably soon be unveiled and will have to be repaired by the next president, but I doubt that four years will be enough for that. If he (she) is a democrat, it will be a child's play for the republicans to declare him incompetent.

    At least Carter, if not a great president (I can't judge on that) was honest I think.

    October 11, 2007 05:00 am at 5:00 am |
  11. ThirstyJon, Adelaide, SA, Australia

    My suggestion would be this. Even if the methods used are not "torture" in the sense of harming a person or causing significant pain, let's be very careful about going to down the slippery slope of even approaching torture! Simulated drownings? Oh my.


    October 11, 2007 05:20 am at 5:20 am |
  12. Mark D Seattle

    I'm surprised the amount of comments that are hating on Mr Carter.
    I'm proud of the time we as a people elected a strong mind to lead us. I think our electing Mr Carter showed we valued character and simple decency. The problem then and continuing today is a decent truth speaking man should be teaching college not in a leadership role of a superpower. Mr Carters strength comes from the truth so many of us hear when he speaks. I believe it's fair to say Mr Carter is a good man. The kind of man we need to start valuing again in my opinion.
    Regarding our folks held captive in Iran, moral strength wasn't going to bring them home. It wasnt like after years of Iran out of their oil they were going to consider us a friend? Of course not, they judged us on our actions, and our actions for years were not very cool. I think it's important to deal with truth, even if it puts you in a bad light. Better to confront our own demons honestly than to sweep them under the rug, and pretend they don't exist. That will just lead to bigger and badder problems. It gets so out of whack that people start hating the truth when it speaks of them less than good. Instead of facing it I read something like "why won't jimmy carter just go away!" or "jimmy carter wishes he was in as queda".

    I mean wtf?? Things are so so so so out of whack these days our president allows torture and we just sit there. I have a hard time believing the good folks of our country would enjoy seeing anyone suffer. We are a decent country and we know better. Take another look at our current leadership. Does their example show what we are about? Yes, we put them there. You know the Republicans have got game when poor people vote for them. I hope we learn some lessons inherent in Mr Bush's presidency. There's still a ton of folks out there who feel hes a decent president doing a fine job, and he is most definitely in a very fast paced never get a breather kind of job – he's a good worker I'd say – a good worker for his folks. They're the ones driving new cars. Mr Bush isnt such a good worker for the rest of the people though, the majority of our population.
    I think allowing torture is enough to raise a concern regarding Mr Bush's morals and beliefs. What kind of person allows deliberate torturing of other people? That's the character we thought wise to lead us. We have been going backwards long enough. It's time to take a 180 degree turn. It looks a little scarey, but it will be ok. Hillary is the best shot we have to get the oil guys out of the white house. I say we get behind her, expect good things, and just leave her be – it's the constant walking on eggshells every day and abut everything that has developed theuncanny and almost natural sounding ability to answer any question in what sounds like an ok answer but i really was two answers, sometimes even opposing each other.
    Thats why I promise Hillary we'll leave her alone so she can get the fighting chance she deserves to make our country a better place – a place to be proud of . A place where truth, kindness, and fair play win the day.

    October 11, 2007 07:09 am at 7:09 am |
  13. Thomas, St. Petersburg, FL

    Many Carter supporters are overlooking one historical fact: the taking of the American Embassy in November 1979 and the subsequent holding of 53 Americans hostage were acts of war.

    The lack of appropriate response by the Carter Administration emboldened the terrorists who now saw Amerca as weak.

    Has President Bush make mistakes?
    Absolutely; every wartime president does, it is inevitable. However, success is never an accident; we haven't had an attack on U.S. soil since 09/11/01. Also, our economy is the envy of the world: The stock market is soaring, record unemployment, low interest rates, and you're paying lower taxes than under President Clinton.

    Terrorists are not covered by the Geneva Convention (i.e., they don't wear uniforms and they're not from one particular nation).
    What exactly is torture? Waterboarding? Extreme cold or heat? Lack of sleep? Lack of food for a few hours?

    Why are some Americans so worried about people who want to murder all of us? Will it take another 09/11/01 to wake some of us up to reality?

    October 11, 2007 07:34 am at 7:34 am |
  14. Terry, El Paso, TX

    The techniques used by the Bush administration to interrogate prisoners do not really harm anyone. These techniques simply make someone frightened that they might be harmed, even though they are in the safe hands of the CIA. To prove this, we should have some CIA operatives demonstrate the techniques on TV, on one of Bush's daughters (or the patriotic daughter of any patriotic Republican), to show us all that they are really harmless.

    Hell, six days with no sleep naked in a room kept at fifty degrees followed by being held underwater until you start inhaling some water, then allowed a few seconds to cough it out, gulp in a breath of air, then held under water again, over and over – that would teach any teenager a little self-discipline.

    If our schools would only start using this technique on kids who turn in their homework late, we would start seeing some improvement in those little scholars.

    October 11, 2007 07:53 am at 7:53 am |
  15. Bill, Charleston SC

    Jimmy Carter is the personification of our weak image in the international community. The perception that America is weak is exactly the reason the terrorists believe that their evil, militant actions will make a difference. We need to deal with the world from a position of strength. President Bush understands this well. Former President Carter has never understood it.

    Folks, America does not torture people. Torture is what John McCain went through in Vietnam. Torture is what our soldiers went through in the far east during World War II. Torture is daily beatings and starvation like the Viet Cong subjected our soldiers to. Torture is putting a soldier in a chair, strapping him down, and taking a file and filing his teeth down until he makes the desired statements like the Japanese did during World War II.

    Torture is NOT sleep deprivation, water boarding, subjecting to chilly temperatures, etc. Those are simply interrogation tecniques, and are quite successful at extracting quality information.

    We do not beat people, or deprive them of nourishment, we don't kill one captive in front of the rest as an incentive to make the others talk. We're not chopping people's heads off or anything of the sort.

    America has become soft. Jimmy Carter is a large part of the reason why. I wish he would just fade away into retirement and stop meddling in the affairs of our country. We survived his presidency in spite of him. We don't need him now.

    October 11, 2007 08:26 am at 8:26 am |
  16. Poison Pen, Oklahoma City, Ok.

    To All the Regan-Lovers:
    The Iran-Contra Affair was a political scandal occurring in 1987 as a result of earlier events during the Reagan administration in which members of the executive branch sold weapons to Iran, an avowed enemy, and illegally used the profits to continue funding anti-Communist rebels, the Contras, in Nicaragua.[1] Large volumes of documents relating to the scandal were destroyed or withheld from investigators by Reagan administration officials.[2][3] The affair is still shrouded in secrecy. After the arms sales were revealed in November 1986, President Ronald Reagan appeared on national television and denied that they had occurred.[4] A week later, however, on November 13, Reagan returned to the airwaves to affirm that weapons were indeed transferred to Iran. He denied that they were part of an exchange for hostages.

    October 11, 2007 08:45 am at 8:45 am |
  17. anon, new york, NY

    That is Bush's typical mode of operation: change the international definition (of torture) or any rule if Bush does not like it. He appointed his croonies to the supreme court, etc., to favour his agenda.

    With the Iraq war, Bush has isolated america from the rest of the world, and america has become public enemy #1. Domestically, america is deeper into debts because of the war, and the social system is in a mess.

    Jimmy Carter is a brave man and a wise ex-president. He told it as it is, and does not back down.

    As Carter says, it is time to kick the Bush out, with a dem president.

    October 11, 2007 08:48 am at 8:48 am |
  18. Ann Johnson City, TN

    Integrity and Truth cannot be manufactured or bought ..

    President Carter is the real deal.
    A great human being and thankfully an outspoken former President...
    The Truth always comes in perfect time.

    October 11, 2007 08:55 am at 8:55 am |
  19. realitycheck

    Carter is the worst president is US history. It's been throuoghly documented. He is only trying to repair that before his death. Bill Clinton will be doing the same thing 20 yrs from now. I can't wait...

    Except for 2 Democrats, all past presidents have followed the same moral principle of not interfering with following administrations, allowing instead, the democratic process to work as intended. What does that say about those 2 presidents? Is there any wonder about which ones??

    October 11, 2007 09:01 am at 9:01 am |
  20. Former US Army Officer, Kansas

    After reading the comments I find that there are very few that appear to understand what this nation stands for or at least use to stand for. Whether you like Jimmy Carter or not, he has made a clear and concise statement of fact based upon international law and treaties to which the United Stares use to be a leader.

    We in the past have refuse to send individuals to nations where we beieve they shall be tortured upon their return. We have had very strong statements as to those nations of the world that extract information through the use of torture. Our courts have recognized from the birth of our nation that confessions gained through torture or other questionable means are not worth the paper that they were written upon.

    I shall not defend the Carter administration, it was a very turbulant period of time in US history. However, where were you when the embassy was taken in Iran, I was sitting on a military airfield in the US on alert, where were you when Charlie Beckworth's attempted rescue failed, I was on the ground in Germany defending the free world. What Jimmy Carter is saying is the truth, I think we should start paying attention to our former Presidents not only in what they say, but in many cases in what they do not say. And if you have not noticed, no living US President has come forth to include Gerorge HW Bush and lavish praise upon this administration for their actions in Iraq, their foreign policies, the questionale spying programs, nor the secret CIA prisons or the acknowlegded techiques of extracting information.

    Information gained through torture is useless. Guidelines given to US forces in the later daus of Vietnam and after Vietnam stated to withhold information the enemy wanted as long as you could, but to relaize that any information you had was already out of date and not useful to the enemy and to go ahead and give it to them. Information over 24 hours old is not information that has any real use.

    This may be a hard concept for some to understand, however, where I am, in my uniform, is America, what I do in uniform is America, the concept that an American soldier can disregard the rules of War, the Geneva Conventions because some official thinks they do not apply is not an acceptable stance. They do apply, why, because we signed them, I do not care who else has signed them but we have signed them, they are a protection for our soldiers and our behavior and adherenace to the rules and conventions are further protection for our servicemen and women today and 100 years from now.

    Basically if we have a war the rules apply, if a crimminal act was committed a different set of rules apply, however one can not have it both ways, so make up your mind, we are either at war and the rules apply, or a crimminal act has occurred and our miliary forces are being improperly used for actions other than what we maintain a military force.

    October 11, 2007 09:02 am at 9:02 am |
  21. RightyTighty

    Belgium should be the last country someone pipes in about being a joke. Do you guys even have a government formed this year yet??

    October 11, 2007 09:05 am at 9:05 am |
  22. therealist

    Now we are the laughing stock of the world. – laurinda,ny

    13T GDP
    4.7% Unemployment
    1% Budget Deficeit
    65% GDP national debt
    Largest homeownership(all races)
    Longest economic expansion
    Exporting capitalism and democracy

    The facts show that the US is still the envey of the world. Small minded political opinions are just that..

    October 11, 2007 09:13 am at 9:13 am |
  23. jordan, dayton ohio

    he is the biggest idiot i have ever heard. i wasnt even alive to have him as president. THANK GOD!!! but i do want to say i dont see anything wrong with trying to get an answer out of the prisoners. have people forgotten 9/11? if we dont get answers out of them one way we have to try another. because if we give them the chance they will be right back over here trying to kill us. jimmy carter needs to shut up and stay at home

    October 11, 2007 09:46 am at 9:46 am |
  24. gopindrag, farwell, michigan

    For all those enthusiastic defenders of the Bush torture regimen, remember you will confessm you will sign any confession after a couple of hours of simulated drowning. And for the guy who would prefer a president who abuses human rights if his son were in Iraq, you got no complaint coming if your son is abused by 'Islamnfascists.'
    Put another way, Dad, if you had to choose between Dick Cheney torturing your son and Vlad Putin or Iran's Ahmedinajad, how could you in God's name prefer any one torturer over another? You haven't thought this through and when you finally do you'll wake up screaming.

    October 11, 2007 10:27 am at 10:27 am |
  25. J.Crobuzon

    If we can't elect a president acceptable to both parties, we are officially not a democratic society. Every second commenter here says, in effect, that they'd like to see this country wrecked just to prove this or that politician wrong. Are you all nuts? Go to some other country and wreck that one – I'm trying to live and raise a family in this one.

    October 11, 2007 10:59 am at 10:59 am |
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