Former President Jimmy Carter put down his hammer at a Meadowbrook Habitat for Humanity project Tuesday for a wide-ranging interview that touched on subjects such as the Obama administration’s use of drones, women’s rights and faith.
“I really object to the killing of people, particularly Americans overseas who haven’t been brought to justice and put on trial,” he said. “We’ve killed four Americans overseas with American drones. To me that violates our Constitution and human rights.”
In May 2013, the Obama administration acknowledged that it had killed four American citizens in drone strikes in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2009.
Carter said it was hard to figure out exactly what President Obama’s policy is in the Middle East.
“It changes from time to time,” Carter said. “I noticed that two of his secretaries of defense, after they got out of office, were very critical of the lack of positive action on the part of the president.”
Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was the most recent to criticize Obama, in remarks he made to USA Today while promoting his new book, Worthy Fights: A Memoir of Leadership in War and Peace.
Carter acknowledged that the ISIS situation is complicated and he thinks the U.S. waited too long to respond.
“First of all, we waited too long. We let the Islamic state build up its money, capability and strength and weapons while it was still in Syria,” he said. “Then when [ISIS] moved into Iraq, the Sunni Muslims didn’t object to their being there and about a third of the territory in Iraq was abandoned.”
Carter sees some hope for the current American policy against ISIS in Iraq where troops on the ground will follow up after air strikes.
“If we keep on working in Iraq and have some ground troops to follow up when we do our bombing, there is a possibility of success.”
No such ground troops are available in Syria at the moment, he said.
“You have to have somebody on the ground to direct our missiles and to be sure you have the right target,” Carter said. “Then you have to have somebody to move in and be willing to fight ISIS after the strikes.”
The former president said he and other members of the Carter family supported President Obama’s run for the presidency.
“It’s too early to speculate about the next presidential election,” he said. “I think Hillary [Clinton] is a real possibility. Whoever the Democratic candidate is, the Carter family will vote for them.”
The Carter Center in Atlanta, the human rights organization that Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, founded, hasn’t been working directly on the Ebola crisis, Carter said.
“We are working all over Liberia with local chiefs,” he said. “There are about 440 village chiefs very close to the Carter center. So we’ve been getting the chiefs to spread the word [about Ebola] accurately.”
Carter said his faith played a big role when he was president and in his present humanitarian work around the world.
“My Christian faith has been the foundation of my life,” he said. “I don’t find any real incompatibility in my faith in being a Naval officer, or a farmer, which I was for 17 years, or serving as president.”
On women’s rights
Carter’s latest book is A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence and Power.
“Women are persecuted around the world,” he said. “I think it’s the worst human rights violation on earth right now.”
Some verses in the Bible and in the Koran, the Islamic holy book, have been used to affirm that women are not equal to men and that often leads to unequal treatment and abuse, he said.
“There are thousands of verses in the Bible,” Carter said. “If you want to believe in slavery you can find verses to support that. If you believe in women not being equal to men you can find that.”
In the United States, said Carter, women get less pay for doing the same work and are often deprived of the chance to be leaders of corporations.
Women are sexually abused in many areas, including on college campuses and in the military, he said.
“Universities don’t want to admit it happens on their campuses,” he said. “So if a girl does report that she’s been raped, they counsel her not to make a big deal of it.”
The same problem occurs in the military, Carter said.
“The Department of Defense reported last February there were 26,000 sexual assaults [in the military] reported in 2012 and only 1 percent of the accused were brought to justice. They just kind of look the other way.”
Before talking about world affairs, Carter praised Fort Worth volunteers and others for supporting the Habitat for Humanity project in central Meadowbrook. He noted that contributions mean that 64 homes are being constructed here.
The Carters ended their participation in building homes in Fort Worth on Tuesday and will move into Dallas’ Oak Cliff for the rest of the week.
Although he recently celebrated his 90th birthday, Carter worked on siding during his two days here, not taking many breaks.
“One of the most attractive things I’ve seen in this project is the close harmony I’ve seen between Fort Worth and Dallas,” he said. “Quite often cities so close together are in competition and don’t get along well, but the Habitat groups in both cities seem to be forming a real team.”