|But right now a powerful, very powerful charge from the former president of the United States, Jimmy Carter, directly, directly contradicting the current president of the United States.Carter says the Bush administration is torturing terror detainees despite repeated denials by the White House, including the president himself.Listen to this clip from my interview today with Jimmy Carter.(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)BLITZER: President Bush said as recently as this week the United States does not torture detainees.JAMES CARTER, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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 it.
BLITZER: But from your definition, you believe the United States, under this administration, has used torture?
CARTER: I don’t think it. I know it, certainly.
BLITZER: So is the president lying?
CARTER: The president is self-defining what we have done and authorized in the torture of prisoners, yes.
BLITZER: The Bush White House is calling Jimmy Carter’s comments — and I’m quoting now — “sad”. Much more of this interview. It’s a powerful interview. That’s coming up this hour, including Jimmy Carter’s claim that the Bush administration and Republican presidential candidates in particular, he says, they are appealing to what he calls ultra-right-wing warmongers.
BLITZER: A former president of the United States unleashed. Right now, Jimmy Carter has some stinging words for Republican presidential candidates on the war on Iraq, even some stinging words for some of his fellow Democrats.
In a one-on-one interview, Jimmy Carter talks with me about Republicans courting what he calls the ultra right wing and says he knows “certainly” that the Bush administration is not being honest about one very controversial issue.
BLITZER: Joining us now, the former president of the United States, Jimmy Carter. His new book is entitled “Beyond the White House: Waging Peace, Fighting Disease, Building Hope”.
Mr. President, welcome back.
CARTER: Thank you, Wolf. Good to be with you.
BLITZER: Let’s get to the book shortly — let’s talk about some of the issues on the agenda. Right now, Republican presidential candidates, including Giuliani, making the suggestion that if Democrats are elected to the White House, U.S. national security will suffer.
Here’s what Giuliani says: “If one of them gets elected, it sounds to me like we’re going on the defense. We’re going to cut back, cut back, cut back, and we’ll be back to our pre-September 11 mentality on being on defense.”
What do you want to say to Rudy Giuliani?
CARTER: Well, I thought on pre-September 11 that George W. Bush was in the White House and the Republicans were in charge.
I think, during the Clinton years, we kept our country safe, we protected out interests around the world, we were admired by almost everyone on earth, and we were free. And we were also out of a war. So I think that history has shown that the Democrats are just as firm and staunch on security as are the Republicans. It ought to be a nonpartisan issue, and it’s a ridiculous thing for Giuliani to be making a claim of that kind.
BLITZER: Do any of these candidates, presidential candidates, scare you?
CARTER: Not on the Democratic side, no.
BLITZER: What about the Republican side?
CARTER: Well, they all seem to be outdoing each other in who wanted to go to war first with Iran, who wants to keep Guantanamo open longer and expand its capacity, things of that kind. They’re competing with each other to appeal to the ultra-right wing, warmongering element in our country, which I think is a minority of the total population.
BLITZER: Who scares you the most?
CARTER: I wouldn’t want to judge between them, because if I condemn one of them, it might escalate him to the top position in the Republican ranks.
BLITZER: But basically, what I hear you saying is, from your perspective, on the issue of national security, there’s really not much of a difference between the Republican frontrunners.
CARTER: That’s exactly right. I think the Democrats, basically, want to see the Lee Hamilton and the James Baker recommendation — one of the finest blue-ribbon commissions ever established in this country — unanimously recommended what we should do about Iraq.
BLITZER: The Iraq Study Group.
CARTER: Yes. And the Democrats are basically for that. The Republicans threw it in the wastebasket and said we don’t want that, we want it to be much more militant, stay in Iraq definitely, and maybe invade or attack Iran. And I think that’s a startling difference between the two.
BLITZER: Let’s talk a little bit about Iraq, which still seems to be the number one issue facing the American voters right now.
I want to play a clip of what two of the Democratic frontrunners, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, said at their recent debate on — in terms of keeping U.S. forces in Iraq over these years if they were elected.
Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I believe that we should have all our troops out by 2013. But I don’t want to make promises.
SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It is my goal to have troops out by the end of my first term, but I agree with Barack, it is very difficult to know what we’re going to be inheriting.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. So what do you think? Because a lot of people were surprised that neither one could commit to getting all U.S. troops out of Iraq by the end of their first term, if, in fact, they’re elected president.
CARTER: Well, I agree with — I agree with the premise that you can’t predict what’s going to happen, but I disagree with that basic supposition that we’ll still be there. I think the American people and the blue-ribbon commission to which I just referred all prefer that we get out.
But, if we should see an unforeseen development in the future where the Iraqi people, completely in control of their own affairs, request the American troops to stay in isolated areas for a period of time, I think that would possibly be acceptable. But that’s not my personal preference.
BLITZER: So, on this issue, you disagree with Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama?
CARTER: Absolutely. We ought to get out earlier than 2013.
BLITZER: How quickly do you think the U.S., realistically, could withdraw all 168,000 troops from Iraq?
CARTER: I think, over an 18-month period, we could be totally out, if that’s our desire, but I never have seen anybody in this current administration or the Republican candidates advocate that we ever get out of Iraq. I think they want to stay there permanently.
BLITZER: On the scale of, you know, historic precedents and historic blunders, from your perspective, what kind of blunder was the invasion of Iraq to get rid of Saddam Hussein?
CARTER: Among the preeminent blunders of American history. It was predicated on false claims. Deliberate or not, I don’t know. It was incorrectly consummated and perpetuated.
The claims of what — how easy it would be were wrong. And I think everyone — just about everyone agrees that the whole war in Iraq has been carried out with a series of blunders.
BLITZER: Some suggest it is the worst foreign policy blunder in American history. Are you among those?
CARTER: I would put it almost on an equal basis with Vietnam, yes. Those two in my lifetime certainly would be the worst two blunders.
BLITZER: In the book — the new book, “Beyond the White House,” you write this on page 252: “We had assumed in earlier years that our commitments and activities in support of human rights were in harmony with those of our government. And we were able to cooperate with officials in Washington. That is no longer a dependable premise.”
CARTER: That’s true.
BLITZER: That sounds like a swipe at — at President Bush.
CARTER: Well, in a way — you know, I think the entire — of global human rights community, with its multiple facets, including those deep inside Pakistan and Israel, B’Tselem and Al-Haq, both would — all would agree with the fact that our country, for the first time in my lifetime, has abandoned the basic principles of human rights.
We have said that the Geneva Convention does not apply to those people in Abu Ghraib Prison and Guantanamo. And we have said that we can torture prisoners, deprive them of an accusation of the crimes to which they accuse.
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 — I don’t think it. I know it, certainly.
BLITZER: So, is the president lying?
CARTER: The president is self-defining what we have done and authorized in the torture of prisoners, yes.
BLITZER: But — but that raises a really important question. Those who are engaged in torture, who commit torture…
BLITZER: … potentially, that could be a violation of international or other laws.
CARTER: Yes, I think so.
BLITZER: Has there been a violation of the law from your perspective? CARTER: If you use the international treaties to which we are committed…
BLITZER: Like the Geneva Conventions…
CARTER: … like the Geneva Conventions, and also…
BLITZER: Because early in the — they said the Geneva Conventions don’t apply to these detainees who were not wearing uniforms. They were not part of any formal army. They were picked up on the battlefield and brought to Guantanamo Bay.
CARTER: My impression is that the United States Supreme Court has said that is a false premise. And I presume that the administration complies with the rulings of the Supreme Court.
And the international community obviously still adheres to and professes to commit themselves the honoring of the Geneva Convention, and also the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which the United States helped draft and promoted and has endorsed up until six-and-a- half years ago unanimously among all the…
BLITZER: So, should someone be held accountable?
CARTER: Well, I think we — the best way to hold people accountable in this country is through the election process.
BLITZER: That is the best way to get — in other words, from your perspective, to get rid of the incumbent administration and move on?
BLITZER: But you don’t want to see any formal charges or a trial?
CARTER: No, I don’t think so. I think that would be inappropriate. That has been done in some cases, as you know, but I don’t think it is appropriate at all.
BLITZER: In response to our interview, a senior White House official who did not want to go on the record simply said this, saying: “Our position is clear. We don’t torture. It’s just sad to hear a former president speak like that.” Source ; Situation Room.
BLITZER: Let’s talk about a sensitive subject on the agenda right now, Iran. And I want to play for you a question that was put to — put to — by one of our viewers to us in this CNN I-Report.
Turn around and you’ll hear the question directly.
CARTER: All right.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES HASSINGER, GLENDALE, CALIFORNIA: Hello, Mr. President.
I wanted to know what you think of the build-up to war that’s being obviously advocated by the vice president and the president, the current administration, and what you think our best actions would be in regards to Iran.
Thank you very much.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CARTER: Well, I basically agree with Condoleezza Rice, who has taken issue with the vice president — with Vice President Cheney, on whether we should promulgate the possibility of war against Iran.
I have noticed that even some of the administration officials or spokesmen for them have even advocated using nuclear weapons against Iran. I think it would be a horrible mistake to attack Iran militarily.
How would we invade Iran when we don’t even have enough troops to give them leave to go home to their families from Iraq? We are short on…
BLITZER: Well, some of these so-called experts say you could do it with air power alone, cruise missiles, bombers, you go in their and destroy their so-called nuclear facilities. CARTER: I know some experts say that. I don’t agree with that. And what we should do about Iran — first of all, do not attack Iran. Secondly, what to do? I think two things to be very brief, we don’t have much time. One is to start talking to Iran, communicate with Iran.
After the Shah was overthrown and the Ayatollah Khomeini took over, we continued our diplomatic relations with Iran. I had, as you know, about 75 people in Tehran, some of whom were taken prisoner. And the Iranians had about 75 of their representatives in Washington. So talk to them and communicate with them.
Secondly, use strong diplomatic means to make sure they don’t go ahead with a nuclear program. And I think that — and to quit threatening to attack them, because that just increases their fervor in developing all kinds of protective devices…
BLITZER: You will…
CARTER: … maybe a nuclear weapon.
BLITZER: You will be surprised that Rudy Giuliani, the Republican presidential candidate, disagrees with you about this. And I’m going to play a little clip of what he says, listen to this.
CARTER: I could almost write it for him, because I know the extreme cases that he has made.
BLITZER: All right. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUDY GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Iran is a greater danger than Iraq. Iraq should not be seen in a vacuum. And we have to be willing to use a military option to stop Iran from becoming nuclear.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. What do you say to Giuliani?
CARTER: He is foolish. I hope that he doesn’t become president and tries to impose on the American people a conviction that we need to go to war with Iran when we are still at war with Iraq.
BLITZER: But do you believe that Iran is working on a nuclear bomb?
CARTER: I don’t know. I think if they are, some people surmise that they are, they are — several years in the future. And I think we can best deter that by diplomatic relations with them and consultations with them and stop threatening that we are going to attack them so they won’t think that they have to respond with all kinds of devices. BLITZER: You know, you have been criticized for your handling of Iran when the Shah was in power, you know, in the late…
CARTER: I have heard about that.
BLITZER: In the late ’70s. Looking back all of these years, knowing what has happened, what, if anything, would you have done differently?
CARTER: I would have had one more helicopter in our rescue mission, which would have brought all of the hostages out safe and free. And so I had to wait from April, around until five minutes after I was no longer president when all of the hostages did come home safe and free.
BLITZER: Because the argument is, as bad as the Shah was on human rights and other issues, he was an ally of the U.S. and probably better than the current regime and that the U.S. should have stuck with him.
CARTER: Well, we couldn’t stick with him, he was not overthrown by anything the United States did, he was overthrown by his own people. And as I said earlier, after they did overthrow the Shah, we took care of the Shah as best we could and we also continued our conversations with — our diplomatic relations with the new regime.
BLITZER: The Senate passed a resolution the other day sponsor — co-sponsored by Senator Lieberman and Senator Kyl saying this: “It is the sense of the Senate that the United States should designate Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps as a foreign terrorist organization.”
Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential front-runner, she voted for that resolution that passed 76 to 22. Was that a good vote on her part?
CARTER: She has the complete freedom to vote the way she chooses. Had I been in the Senate, I would not have voted for it because an earlier version of that, which I read, said that this also involved direct military action against Iran.
So in effect, that vote was giving the administration the imprimatur of Congress to go to war against Iran, the same thing that she voted for earlier…
BLITZER: Because some of her critics said…
CARTER: … to go into Iraq.
BLITZER: … that she would indirectly give authorization to the president if he wanted to go to war against Iran by this kind of vote. Her critics, some Democrats and Republicans.
CARTER: But I’m not criticizing her. I’m just telling you the way I would have voted had I been there, because I think that a vote for that resolution about Iran opens up the possibility of the administration saying in the future we have got authority from the Congress — from the Senate to go to war.
BLITZER: The Israelis bombed some sort of facility Syria, as you know, in September. And there are now suggestions, including in The New York Times, that there is a dispute between the vice president, Dick Cheney, the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, on what it entails and whether the U.S. should have authorized or gone along with this in The Times today.
It says this: “It has long been known that North Korean scientists have aided Damascus in developing sophisticated ballistic missile technology. And there appears to be little debate that North Koreans frequently visited a site in the Syrian desert that Israeli jets attacked September 6th. Where officials disagree is whether the accumulated evidence points to a Syrian nuclear program that poses a significant threat to the Middle East.”
What do you make of what — you are an expert on the Middle East, what do you make of this attack, the U.S. response, what should the U.S. response have been, and this dispute, apparently, that has developed between Secretary Rice and Vice President Cheney?
CARTER: Well, almost without knowing the subject, if somebody asked me, do you agree with Condoleezza Rice or the vice president? I would just say automatically, I agree with Condoleezza Rice not even knowing what the subject is.
But in this case I don’t really know, I don’t any access to any sort of intelligence briefing or the facts. My guess is though that the site did not involve nuclear capabilities, but it might very well have involved long-term — long-range missiles, because the North Koreans, even though it is a destitute financial country, is superb in technology development with the limited capabilities they have.
I’m thoroughly familiar with that. And so my guess is that they were helping Syria develop some kind of missile technology.
BLITZER: And do you have a problem with the Israelis using F-16s or other U.S.-made hardware in this kind of a strike?
CARTER: Well, that is a judgment for the Israelis to make. And I understand not only has the United States and Israel stayed mute, but also Syria has remained mute about it. So I don’t know enough about the subject to comment, Wolf.
BLITZER: In the new afterward to your other bestseller, “Palestine: Peace not Apartheid,” you write this. You write: “America must not be seen in the pocket of either side. We cannot be peacemakers if American government leaders are seen as knee-jerk supporters of every action or policy of whatever Israeli government happens to be in power at the moment. That is the essential fact that must be faced.”
CARTER: That is certainly true. BLITZER: You caused a big stir in the last book, as you well know. Any second thoughts?
CARTER: No. Not at all. And I think that finally, after seven years of no effort to bring peace to the Middle East. The administration has now taken a very bold step, and I hope a very successful step next month by convening talks in the United States between Israel and the Palestinians for the first time with any substance involved.
This will be a very good step in the right direction, which I pray will be successful. But we can’t just say we adopt all of the policies of the Israeli government, now the Palestinians can come in if they want to as a second-class citizen and hope to be successful.
BLITZER: Let’s talk about another quote from your new book, “Beyond the White House,” page 74: “One of our nation’s ill-advised and counterproductive policies is the prohibition against Americans visiting Cuba and the punitive embargo against our 11 million neighbors who live under the communist regime of Fidel Castro.”
Now you met with Fidel Castro. He is obviously very sick right now. What do you want, just a complete lifting of all of those restrictions?
CARTER: Yes, certainly. That is what I did within six weeks after I became president. I lifted all restraints on travel to Cuba and started to establish diplomatic relations with Cuba. In fact, we established interest sections, as you know, one in Havana, one in Washington, that are still there after all of these administrations, they see the value of it.
I think what we do with our embargo and punishment of the Cuban people is to turn them against us and it makes Castro into an unjustifiably claimed hero because he blames all of his problems, most of which he causes himself, on the United States over to the north, because we are punishing the Cuban people.
So I think the best thing to do is to open up all travel and commerce and communications between the United States and Cuba. Let the Cuban people see what freedom and democracy is.
BLITZER: Let’s wind up this interview with another question from a viewer that was sent in on our I-Report. Turn around and you will hear the question.
CARTER: OK, fine.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VICTOR MAI: Hello. My name is Victor Mai. And I’m a student here in Tempe, Arizona. This question is for former President Jimmy Carter. What advice would you give to the future 44th president of the United States involving the economy, the future of Iraq, and the rising cost of tuition for college students like me?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Why don’t we focus in on the rising cost of tuition for a college student like him. We’ve already spoken about Iraq.
The economy — if you want to talk about that, you can.
CARTER: I’ve got 11 grandchildren, so I’m deeply involved in college tuition. I hope we can hold down college tuition and be quite constructive on student loans. But I think that the new president of the United States, that I pray will be a Democrat in 2009, will make a speech that I think in 20 minutes can totally transform the attitude of the rest of the world toward America, just by saying, When I’m president, we will never again resort to torture. When I’m president, we will honor all international agreements, which have been consummated by my predecessors, concerning the control of nuclear weapons.
When I’m president, I’m going to join and be the leader of the rest of the world in protecting the quality of our environment. And now that I’m president — she’s already — if he or she has already taken office — to say, I want our country to raise high the banner of human rights. And we will once again be the leaders of these things.
I think in those few moments, which might only take ten minutes of a(n) inaugural speech, we can completely transform the negative image that the United States now has around the world, into a positive image.
BLITZER: The book is entitled, “Beyond the White House: Waging Peace, Fighting Disease, Building Hope.” The author is Jimmy Carter.
Mr. President, thanks for coming in.
CARTER: I’ve enjoyed it, Wolf. Thank you very much. Source : Situation Room