John Shattuck Interview (2004): Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley
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You've given us a good statement of the problems of the nineties and what emerged from all of that work. How has 9/11 changed things?
It has almost completely changed things. There are three specific, immediate results from 9/11, and all three of them, actually, if you can believe it, I'm going to regard as positive. I think they had a positive, short-term impact.
First, the forces of disintegration, which were wreaking such havoc in Rwanda and Bosnia and Kosovo, and other human rights wars of the nineties, were really not being attended to by Americans. Most people paid very little attention to these distant wars that were going on far away from our country. Maybe with Haiti, they paid a little bit of attention, and to some extent Bosnia. But 9/11 woke everybody up to the forces of disintegration. They flew right into the World Trade Center.
Second, 9/11 demonstrated that the swamp of Afghanistan, the human rights catastrophic swamp, where abuses had been among the worst in the world since over a decade, was the swamp out of which terrorism emerged. It was not by accident that al Qaeda found the Taliban to be its most trusting ally.
The third result, which I also applaud, was the assembly of an international coalition led by the United States early on to intervene in Afghanistan. I think the intervention in Afghanistan was exactly right. It simultaneously accomplished both counter-terrorism and pro- human rights objectives.
Those three short-term results of 9/11 were quite positive for human rights. However, after two years, the pressure on human rights in the war on terrorism has become almost overwhelming everywhere, and those early, positive results are now much, much more problematic. First, we see that allies like China, Russia, and Indonesia, and other countries where dissidents have been trying to bring about reform, those dissidents are now more and more regarded as terrorists. And the crackdown on dissidents is allowed in the name of fighting terrorism. So reformers are having a very hard time around the world.
Second, we've had the crackdown on civil liberties in the United States. 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. Fortunately, that case is now going to be reviewed by the United States Supreme Court.
We've had an erosion of international law, 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. That, too, is going to be reviewed by the United States Supreme Court. 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. I think Iraq called out for a multilateral humanitarian intervention. Certainly, the removal of Saddam Hussein, one of the worst human rights violators, is something to be applauded. But the 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.
So 9/11 has been complicated, let's put it that way. It had, initially, some very important, positive results, which still are applicable in terms of waking up to these forces of disintegration, in terms of demonstrating that the battle against terrorism has to be related to the enforcement of human rights and stopping human rights wars. But the way that battle has been conducted, and the way the war has been waged over the last two years has led to a serious erosion of human rights.
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