Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Carter says Bush backs torture, shrinks U.S. influence

Carter says Bush backs torture, shrinks U.S. influence
By John Whitesides, Political Correspondent

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter said on Monday the Bush administration had eroded America's global influence with its conduct in Iraq and by condoning the torture of terrorism suspects.

"They have redefined torture to make it convenient for them," Carter said of the Bush administration in an interview with Reuters.

"Things that are unanimously almost or globally assumed to be torture, they claim that this is not torture. I don't think there is any doubt that is what they are doing," said Carter, a Democrat who was president from 1977 to 1981.

He has since been a leading voice on global human rights issues and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002.

Carter, 81, said he was "filled with admiration" for Republican Sens. John McCain and John Warner and former Secretary of State Colin Powell for their effort last week to block President George W. Bush's policies on the treatment of suspected terrorists. The White House and senators are continuing talks in search of a compromise.

"We've lost the support and trust and confidence and admiration that we've had for generations," Carter said, adding the administration "has stonewalled so they can continue to perpetrate this illegal punishment."

"They have obviously subverted facts, that has been proven, and subversion of the law is now becoming more and more apparent," he said, referring to the administration's repeated appeals of court rulings concerning the treatment and legal rights of prisoners at the Guantanamo prison in Cuba.


Carter, who has called treatment of detainees at Guantanamo an embarrassment and disgrace, said Americans were less safe since September 11 because Bush mishandled the Iraq war and failed to promote peace efforts between Israel and Palestinians.

Those two factors, he said, "combined to stir up additional animosity and threats of violence not only against us but against allies like Great Britain."

Carter, who is serving as the honorary chairman of Democrats Abroad, said in the telephone interview from his home in Plains, Georgia, that he would encourage Democrats overseas to vote in November, when the party must pick up six Senate seats and 15 House seats to reclaim majorities.

Republicans rejected Carter's criticism and said Bush would not change course.

"While Jimmy Carter is committed to attacking this administration's efforts to keep us safe, President Bush remains committed to waging an aggressive battle with those whose stated goal is to harm Americans," said Tracey Schmitt, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee.

Carter criticized Bush's approach to foreign diplomacy as the president headed to the United Nations for a general session expected to highlight by international skepticism over U.S. policies toward Iran and Iraq.

The White House has ruled out a meeting between Bush and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who will also address the General Assembly, and says there will be no lower-level contacts with the Iranian delegation.

"Our government now has a strange and unprecedented and pervasive policy of not speaking to anybody who doesn't agree with us in advance on controversial issues. So we close the door, we go into a closet and pout," Carter said.

"So we don't talk to Iran, we don't talk to Syria, we don't talk to the Palestinian government, we don't talk to North Korea, we don't talk to any leaders around the world who disagree with us and this is where the problems arise," he said.