December 28, 2005
Since his retirement by Ronald Reagan,
President Carter has given active service to the causes of human
rights and peace. He has written a number of books, and now he
has delivered a humdinger: Our
Endangered Values (Simon & Schuster, 2005) in which he
takes the Bush administration to task.
Jimmy Carter is an uncommonly
decent and sincere person to have gone so far in American politics.
His presidency failed because it coincided in time with three
crises: economic malaise resulting from the exhaustion and failure
of postwar Keynesian demand management, the outburst of long-simmering
hatred in Iran of US interference in Iran's internal affairs,
and a run-up in the oil price (small compared to what Bush and
Cheney have achieved).
President Carter finds it unpleasant
to write his assessment of the Bush administration, but he steadfastly
makes it clear that the Bush/Cheney/neocon "war on terror"
is in fact a war on America's reputation and civil liberties.
He points out that the Bush administration has used the "war
on terror" to justify actions "similar to those of
abusive regimes that we have historically condemned." Consequently,
"the United States now has become one of the foremost targets
of respected international organizations concerned about these
basic principles of democratic life."
Carter reports that the deception,
naked aggression, and torture that define the Bush administration
have caused a tremendous setback for human rights throughout
the world. At an international human rights conference in June
2005, "Participants explained that oppressive leaders had
been emboldened to persecute and silence outspoken citizens under
the guise of fighting terrorism . . . The consequence is that
many lawyers, professors, doctors,and journalists had been labeled
terrorists, often for merely criticizing a particular policy
or for carrying out their daily work. We heard about many cases
involving human rights attorneys being charged with abetting
terrorists simply for defending accused persons." Carter
is especially disturbed that the Bush administration is encouraging
these abusive policies in the name of "fighting terrorism."
Who among us ever expected
to hear an American president, vice president, and attorney general
justify torture as essential to the protection of the American
way of life? Carter quotes attorney general Alberto Gonzales,
who sounds more like a third world tyrant than an American when
he dismisses the Geneva Convention's provisions as "quaint."
Bush threatened to veto any congressional limitation on his right
to torture, and Donald Rumsfeld's Pentagon declared that "the
president, despite domestic and international laws constraining
the use of torture, has the authority as Commander in Chief to
approve almost any physical or psychological actions during interrogation,
up to and including torture."
It is not only Carter who is
disturbed, but also members of the previous Bush administration,
including the current president's own father and former National
Security Advisor, Brent Scowcroft. Carter quotes Dr. Burton J.
Lee III, President George H.W. Bush's White House physician as
"Reports of torture by
US forces have been accompanied by evidence that military medical
personnel have played a role in this abuse and by new military
ethical guidelines that in effect authorize complicity by health
professionals in ill-treatment of detainees. . . . Systematic
torture, sanctioned by the government and aided and abetted by
our own profession, is not acceptable. . . . America cannot continue
down this road. Torture demonstrates weakness, not strength.
. . . It is not leadership. It is a reaction of government officials
overwhelmed by fear who succumb to conduct unworthy of them and
of the citizens of the United States."
Carter notes that the illegal
detentions following 9/11 were hurriedly legalized by dubious
methods which violate a number of constitutional protections
of civil liberties. Carter is distressed that children as young
as 8 years old are being held in indefinite detention and tortured.
Confronted by Seymour Hersh, a Pentagon spokesman replied that
"age is not a determining factor in detention."
The similarity of Bush administration
policies to " those of abusive regimes that we have historically
condemned" is brought home to us by historian Nikolaus Wachsmann's
Prisons (Yale University Press 2004).
Wachsmann's book is a detailed
history of the conflict and cooperation between the traditional
legal/judicial/prison system on the one hand and the police/SS/concentration
camp system on the other. He does not mention George Bush or
Bush's "war on terror." However, the similarities leap
off the pages.
Just as 9/11 was a crystallizing
event for Bush's seizure of executive power to suspend civil
liberties, detain people indefinitely without evidence, and spy
on American citizens without warrants, the Reichstag fire of
27 February 1933 was followed the next morning by Hitler's Decree
for the Protection of People and State. This decree became the
constitutional charter of the Third Reich. It "suspended
guarantees of personal liberty and served as the basis for the
police arrest and incarceration of political opponents without
In a frightening parallel to
our own situation, Wachsmann writes: "Various police activities
during the 'seizure of power' clearly damaged legal authority.
Indefinite detention without due judicial process was incompatible
with the rule of law. But, on the whole, there were no loud complaints
or protests from legal officials." I read this passage the
same day I heard on National Public Radio University of Chicago
law professor Eric Posner defend President Bush's use of extra-legal,
extra-Constitutional authority to protect the people and state
The precedent for Alberto Gonzales'
declaration that Bush is the law was Reich Minister of Justice
Franz Gurtner, who agreed in a cabinet meeting on 3 July 1934
that "Hitler was the law." Bush's claim that extraordinary
powers are necessary for him to be able to defend our country
under extraordinary circumstances is identical to Hitler's claim
that he was entitled to ignore the rule of law because he was
"responsible for the fate of the German nation and thereby
the supreme judge of the German people." What is the difference
between HItler's claim and the US Department of Defense's claim
that President Bush has the right to violate domestic and international
Wachsmann's book shows that
it is extremely easy for extraordinary measures in the name of
national emergency to become permanent.
Germans did not understand that the Decree for the Protection
of People and State was the beginning of legal terror.
Carter, being a former president,
must write with restraint. Wachsmann sticks closely to his subject.
But Robert Higgs in his Resurgence
of the Warfare State (Independent Institute 2005) lays it
all on the line.
With ruthless logic Higgs shreds
every claim of the Bush administration and its apologists. Reading
Higgs leaves no doubt that the Bush administration's invasion
of Iraq was an illegal act based in deception. Under the Nuremberg
standard established by the US itself, Bush's invasion is a war
crime. Widespread slaughter of the civilian Iraqi population
and torture of detainees are also war crimes. In one of his best
chapters Higgs destroys the claim that US "smart weapons"
are expressions of our morality in warfare because they target
only enemy combatants.
Higgs explains that the accuracy
within a few yards of smart weapons is meaningless. The blast,
heat, and pressures from the weapons destroys everything within
120 yards of the hit. No one within 365 yards can expect to remain
unharmed. Injuries can extend to persons 1000 yards away from
the blast. The odds are zero, Higgs writes, that the use of such
weapons on towns and cities will not kill and maim large numbers
And they have done so. American
forces in Iraq have killed far more Iraqi civilians than they
have insurgents. It is safe to say that Iraqis never experienced
such terror from Saddam Hussein as they have experienced from
the American invasion and occupation.
Bush claims that his war crimes
are justified because they are committed in the name of "freedom
and democracy." The entire world rejects this excuse. Sooner
or later even Bush's remaining Republican supporters will turn
away in shame from the dishonor Bush has brought to America.
Paul Craig Roberts has held a number of academic appointments
and has contributed to numerous scholarly publications. He served
as Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration.
His graduate economics education was at the University of Virginia,
the University of California at Berkeley, and Oxford University.
He is coauthor of The
Tyranny of Good Intentions. He can be reached at: email@example.com