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Carter faults US on rights

ATLANTA -- Perceived human rights violations by the United States during the war on terrorism could allow dictators in other nations to justify their own abuses, former President Carter said yesterday. Opening a conference of international human rights workers, the Nobel peace laureate said an erosion of civil liberties in the United States has "given a blank check to nations who are inclined to violate human rights already."

He cited the indefinite detention at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, of hundreds of people captured during the fighting in Afghanistan, and the post-Sept. 11 roundup of about 1,200 US immigrants, many of whom were held for months without being formally charged with a crime.

"This is a violation of the basic character of my country, and it's very disturbing to me," Carter said.

The Supreme Court agreed Monday to consider whether foreigners held at the Navy base in Cuba should have access to American courts. The Bush administration has cited laws from the World War II era stating that foreign prisoners detained in wartime have no such right.

The conference, which began yesterday at the Carter Center, attracted more than 40 human rights activists from across the world, including United Nations acting High Commissioner for Human Rights Bertran Ramcharan. Attendees planned to craft a document calling for renewed attention to human rights as nations draft antiterrorism laws.

Saad Ibrahim, a professor at American University in Cairo who was jailed for seven years after exposing fraud in the Egyptian election process, said the United States' actions cast a long shadow. "Every dictator in the world is using what the United States has done under the Patriot Act . . . to justify their past violations of human rights and to declare a license to continue to violate human rights."

The Bush administration's Patriot Act expanded government's surveillance and detention power.

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