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JOHN SHATTUCK Printer Friendly Page
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  • Vice Chairman of Amnesty International
  • Former American Civil Liberties Union attorney


A former American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) attorney, John Shattuck served from 1993 to 1998 as the Clinton administration’s Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. Today he is vice chairman of Amnesty International (AI), a New York-based NGO that assigns America the lion’s share of the blame for the degenerative state of world affairs, and strongly condemns the Bush administration’s War on Terror. On occasion, AI has gone so far as to compare President Bush unfavorably to Osama bin Laden and Pol Pot, the architect of Cambodian genocide. While AI’s human rights reports mention countries such as Cuba and Libya only in the context of their respective accounts of human rights abuses in those nations, the United States is mentioned countless times for its alleged complicity in many abuses across the globe. Moreover, AI soundly criticizes the US. for its stance on the death penalty (dubbing America part of the “axis of executioners,” along with China and Iran), for its supposedly poor treatment of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay, and for its opposition to the International Criminal Court.

Shattuck received a B.A. degree from Yale University in 1965, a Masters degree from Cambridge in 1967, and a law degree from Yale in 1970.From 1971 to 1984, he was executive director of the ACLU Washington office and national staff counsel. From 1998 to 2000, Shattuck was the U.S. Ambassador to the Czech Republic. He is the author of Freedom on Fire, a book about his work for the Clinton administration. He is also the vice president of Harvard University and the CEO of the Kennedy Library Foundation.

Regarding the current War in Iraq, Shattuck says“[Y]ou do need the international community behind you in order to have a legitimate authority once you've gone into a country to try to stop the human rights war. . . . This has been a relatively unilateral intervention with the British at our side, with vast skepticism throughout the region and the world, and others not participating. Therefore, it is perceived as illegitimate, even though it could well have been justified as a humanitarian intervention had it been done differently. . . . And then we’ve had this vision that we were going to transform the Middle East through some set of apocalyptic events that would follow from the intervention that occurred – I think that was so far out of realistic balance with what was likely once we went in that it has colored the whole intervention. . . . [T]he planning for the post-war process was completely devoid of any involvement by civilians, which was a terrible mistake, and, again, something that we should have learned from all the earlier interventions that we engaged in.”

Characterizing the U.S. government’s recently enacted anti-terrorism measures as assaults on civil liberties, Shattuck contends that the 9/11 attacks ushered in an era of many negative developments in the United States. “[W]e’ve had the crackdown on civil liberties in the United States,” he says. “The fact that American citizens now can be designated by the Attorney General of the United States as enemy alien combatants and have the Bill of Rights stripped from them completely is an extraordinary assertion of executive power in the name of fighting terrorism.”

“We’ve had an erosion of international law,” adds Shattuck, “where we’ve seen the holding of thousands of prisoners in Guantanamo, and a claim that the Geneva Conventions in all their various ways don’t apply to those prisoners because these prisoners were not wearing uniforms on a field of battle and they're not traditional combatants. . . . I think it shows a disregard for basic international human rights law in this period. Then we’ve had a substitution of a new doctrine of preemptive unilateral war for the old doctrine of multilateral humanitarian intervention, and that doctrine, of course, has been used in Iraq. . . . [T]he way it was done has created a greater risk of conflicts and alienation within the region because it was done unilaterally. Finally, I think the United States has lost much of its soft power in this period. The soft power of projecting human rights and international law values has been lost. . . . [T]he way the war has been waged over the last two years has led to a serious erosion of human rights.”



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