Inside Story Americas
Should the US be a global moral authority?
We discuss if moral authority has ever inspired the United States' policies at home and abroad.
Last Modified: 05 Jul 2012 17:25

Jimmy Carter, former US president and Nobel Peace Laureate, is calling on Americans to reverse course and regain moral leadership.

In an opinion piece published by The New York Times, Carter says that in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the US adopted policies that violate several articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And there has been little opposition from either Democrats or Republicans or the American people.

Carter cites what he calls the 'arbitrary' rule that any man killed by drones is considered a terrorist.

A recent report revealed that President Barack Obama considers all military-aged males killed by a drone in a strike zone as combatants - unless they are proven innocent later.

Carter is also critical of the continued existence of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, which still houses 169 prisoners, half of which have been cleared for release.

And he highlights the anti-immigration laws that have been passed by several US states which allow for people to be detained for their appearance.

While a federal judge is currently blocking this law, Carter also cited recent legislation signed by Obama that allows the military to indefinitely detain American citizens without charge.

He says such policies "abets our enemies and alienates our friends".

Many expected Barack Obama's Presidency to be very different from that of his predecessor George W Bush.

During the 2008 election campaign, addressing a huge crowd in Berlin, Obama said: "Will we acknowledge that there is no more powerful example than the one each of our nations projects to the world? Will we reject torture and stand for the rule of law? Will we welcome immigrants from different lands, and shun discrimination against those who don't look like us or worship like we do, and keep the promise of equality and opportunity for all of our people?

"I know my country has not perfected itself. At times, we've struggled to keep the promise of liberty and equality for all of our people. We've made our share of mistakes, and there are times when our actions around the world have not lived up to our best intentions," added Obama.

So Inside Story Americas asks: Has moral authority ever inspired US policies at home and abroad?

To discuss this, presenter Anand Naidoo, is joined by guests: Bob Maginnis, a retired US army officer and national security analyst; Andrea Parsow, the senior counterterrorism counsel for Human Rights Watch; and Arsalan Iftikhar, an international human rights lawyer.

"The declaration has been invoked by human rights activists and the international community to replace most of the world's dictatorships with democracies and to promote the rule of law in domestic and global affairs. It is disturbing that, instead of strengthening these principles, our government's counterterrorism policies are now clearly violating at least 10 of the declaration's 30 articles, including the prohibition against 'cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment'."

An extract from Jimmy Carter's piece published by The New York Times about the US undermining the Universal Declaration of Human Rights



  • The US-global leadership project - a joint effort by the Meridian International Center and Gallup - tracks opinion of US leadership
  • Global opinion of US leadership rose after Barack Obama's election in 2008 and soared in 2009 but dropped last year
  • Median approval rating for US leadership was 46 per cent in 2011 down from 49 per cent in 2009
  • Median approval for US leadership was 33 per cent in 2007 under President Bush
  • The image of US leadership in 2011 was strongest in Africa, where median approval for US leadership stood at 74 per cent
  • Approval of US leadership was low across northern Africa
  • In Americas, median approval fell from 46 per cent in 2010 to 40 per cent in 2011
  • Afghanistan's approval of US fell from 48 per cent in 2008 to 37 per cent in 2011
  • Iraq's approval of US fell from 35 per cent in 2008 to 29 per cent in 2011
  • Pakistan’s approval of the US rose from 19 per cent in 2007 to 26per cent in 2011


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