Former president Jimmy Carter (D) said Wednesday that he would consider pardoning Edward Snowden if he returned to the United States and was convicted and sentenced, but acknowledged he doesn't have enough information to judge how much damage the former National Security Agency contractor has done to U.S. national security interests.
"If he was found guilty and sentenced to death, I would certainly consider pardon," Carter said. But, Carter added that he doesn't have "the information President Obama has about what damage has been done to our security apparatus."
When asked whether he would pardon Snowden today as president, Carter replied, "No, because you can't pardon someone who has not been tried and convicted."
Carter made his remarks during an appearance at The Washington Post. He's been making the rounds to promote his new book, "A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence and Power." The discussion, which also focused heavily on women's issues and religion, was moderated by David Ignatius and Sally Quinn.
Carter has been a critic of the NSA surveillance efforts revealed by Snowden, who is living in Russia. The former president recently said that he believes the agency is monitoring his e-mails. On Wednesday, Carter called on Obama to do more to scale back the scope of government surveillance.
"I would like to see him do it by executive order which I think he could," Carter said.
On the situation in Ukraine, Carter reiterated his belief that the United States and its allies could not have done anything to stop Crimea from falling into Russia's hands. But, he added that Russian President Vladimir Putin "has to be stopped now." He said that while the threat of U.S. military force to prevent Russia from moving further into Ukraine is probably excessive, showing support for the Ukrainian military in concert with U.S. allies is prudent.
"I think it would be legitimate to say we are going to make sure the Ukraine military are fortified and [provided with] whatever weapons they need," said Carter.
On Middle East peace efforts, Carter urged Obama to adopt a robust posture in support of his chief diplomat if he comes forth with a comprehensive peace plan in the region.
"He doesn't have to be involved in the negotiations," said Carter, "but he has to make sure once [Secretary of State] John Kerry comes forward with a roadmap ... that he lets the whole world know this is the United States position."
Jimmy Carterdefended the disclosures by fugitive NSA contractorEdward Snowden on Monday, saying revelations that U.S. intelligence agencies were collecting meta-data of Americans' phone calls and e-mails have been "probably constructive in the long run."
Carter, 89, was interviewed on USA TODAY's Capital Download about his new book,A Call To Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power, being published Tuesday. He discussed the need to change the way the U.S. military handles sexual abuse cases, his correspondence with Pope Francis, his grandson's campaign for governor of Georgia -- his former job -- and whether Hillary Clinton would make a good president.
And he described how concern that his own e-mails are being monitored by intelligence agencies prompted him to type or write letters when he has a personal message for a foreign leader, then to mail them. Even then, he suspects the letters might be scrutinized when they pass through U.S. embassies.
"I think it's wrong," he said of the NSA program. "I think it's an intrusion on one of the basic human rights of Americans, is to have some degree of privacy if we don't want other people to read what we communicate."
Does he view Snowden, now granted asylum in Russia, as a hero or a traitor?
"There's no doubt that he broke the law and that he would be susceptible, in my opinion, to prosecution if he came back here under the law," he said. "But I think it's good for Americans to know the kinds of things that have been revealed by him and others -- and that is that since 9/11 we've gone too far in intrusion on the privacy that Americans ought to enjoy as a right of citizenship."
Carter cautioned that he didn't have information about whether some of the disclosures "may have hurt our security or individuals that work in security," adding, "If I knew that, then I may feel differently." And he said Snowden shouldn't be immune from prosecution for his actions.
"I think it's inevitable that he should be prosecuted and I think he would be prosecuted" if he returned to the United States, the former president said. "But I don't think he ought to be executed as a traitor or any kind of extreme punishment like that."
In his new book, published by Simon & Schuster,Carter details human rights abuses against women and girls around the world, often justified in the name of the Bible, the Koran and other religious texts. He called the issue "the most serious and unaddressed worldwide challenge," in the developing world and the United States.
He expressed fears that the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan by the end of this year would reverse many of the gains made there in the treatment of women and girls.
"I am concerned," he said. "I think the long occupation of the United States in Afghanistan and the evolution of the right of some girls to go to school has maybe decreased the adverse consequences of Taliban domination. I don't think it will come back as bad as it was in the past, but I think it still exists."
Carter, who endorsed Barack Obama in the 2008 Democratic presidential campaign, spoke highly of Hillary Rodham Clinton, the candidate he didn't endorse then. "I think Hillary has done a good job, obviously, as secretary of State and I think she obviously knows politics as well as anybody in America -- she and her husband together -- and I think she would make a good president."
As his 90th birthday approaches this year, he offered some thoughts on his legacy.
"One is peace," he said. "I kept peace when I was president and I try to promote peace between other people and us, and between countries that were potentially at war, between Israel and Egypt for instance. And human rights. . . . I think human rights and peace are the two things I'd like to be remembered for -- as well as being a good grandfather." And he laughed.
Former US President Jimmy Carter lambasted US intelligence methods as undemocratic and described Edward Snowden’s NSA leak as “beneficial” for the country.
Carter lashed out at the US political system when the issue of the previously top-secret NSA surveillance program was touched upon at the Atlantic Bridge meeting on Tuesday in Atlanta, Georgia.
"America has no functioning democracy at this moment," Carter said, according to Der Spiegel.
He also believes the spying-scandal is undermining democracy around the world, as people become increasingly suspicious of US internet platforms, such as Google and Facebook. While such mediums have normally been associated with freedom of speech and have recently become a major driving force behind emerging democratic movements, fallout from the NSA spying scandal has dented their credibility.
It’s not the first time Carter has criticized US intelligence policies. In a previous interview with
CNN, he said the NSA leaks signified that “the invasion of human rights and American privacy has gone too far." He added that although Snowden violated US law, he may have ultimately done good for the country.
"I think that the secrecy that has been surrounding this invasion of privacy has been excessive, so I think that the bringing of it to the public notice has probably been, in the long term, beneficial."
Jimmy Carter was President of the United States from 1977 to 1981. After leaving office, he founded the Carter Center, an NGO advocating human rights. The ex-president’s human rights credentials won him Nobel Peace Prize in 2002.
Carter has frequently criticized his successors in the White House. Last year, he condemned the Obama administration for the use of drone attacks in his article "A Cruel and Unusual Record" published in the New York Times.