Michael Ratner

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Michael D. Ratner
Michael ratner2.jpg
Ratner in front of the U.S. Supreme Court
Born (1943-06-13)June 13, 1943
Cleveland, Ohio, USA
Died May 11, 2016(2016-05-11) (aged 72)
Manhattan, New York City, New York, USA
Education Brandeis University
Columbia Law School
Occupation Attorney
Employer Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR)
Organization European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR)
National Lawyers Guild (NLG)
Known for Civil and human rights litigation and advocacy

Michael Ratner (June 13, 1943 – May 11, 2016)[1] was an American attorney, president for much of his career of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), a non-profit human rights litigation organization based in New York City; and president of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), based in Berlin.

Ratner "will be most remembered for filing Rasul v. Bush, the first lawsuit challenging President Bush’s wartime detentions."[2]He was co-counsel in representing the Guantanamo Bay detainees in the United States Supreme Court, which ruled for the detainees' right to test the legality of their detentions in United States court, saying that the Guantanamo base was effectively an extension of US territory and covered by US law.[3]

Ratner was also a president of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) and the author of numerous books and articles, including the books The Trial of Donald Rumsfeld: A Prosecution by Book, Against War with Iraq, and Guantanamo: What the World Should Know, as well as a textbook on international human rights. Ratner was the co-host of the radio program, Law and Disorder. He and three other attorneys hosted the Pacifica Radio show that reported legal developments related to civil liberties, civil rights, and human rights.

Ratner was the brother of Ellen Ratner, radio talk show host and Fox News contributor, and Bruce Ratner, real estate developer and former New Jersey Nets majority owner. He was a 1966 graduate of Brandeis University. He received his law degree from Columbia Law School, where he graduated first in his class.

Academic, activist, attorney, and author[edit]

Press conference with Amnesty International and CCR in front of the US Supreme Court, 2006

Teaching posts[edit]

Ratner taught law in the early 1970s. He taught at Columbia Law School and at Yale Law School.

Activism[edit]

Ratner opposed Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuse and the Iraq War. In January 2006, he served as an expert witness at a mock tribunal staged by the Bush Crimes Commission at Columbia University.

At the end of his life, Ratner was active defending Julian Assange and Wikileaks, as well as speaking out on behalf of Jeremy Hammond and Chelsea Manning, alleged Wikileaks sources.

In June 2013, Ratner and numerous other celebrities appeared in a video supporting Chelsea Manning, who was facing court martial for disclosing files to Wikileaks which included evidence of war crimes in Iraq.[4][5]

In May 2014, Michael Ratner submitted his resignation from the advisory board of the International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life at Brandeis, due to the university's president cutting ties with Al Quds, a Palestinian University, after a student demonstration there. Ratner declared his support for Al Quds' President, Dr Nusseibeh, and his promotion of "mutual respect, peaceful coexistence and the exchange of ideas" with Israelis.[6]

Civil liberties and human rights counsel[edit]

Shortly after the US government began to detain prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba in 2002 during the so-called War on Terror, claiming they were beyond the reach of United States law as being "offshore" and military prisoners, Ratner was co-counsel with other attorneys and the CCR in a landmark case challenging the Bush position in court. They filed habeas corpus petitions on behalf of British men Shafik Rasul and Asif Iqbal, and Australians David Hicks and Mamdouh Habib, saying it was unlawful to hold the men indefinitely without determining their status. They lost in the lower courts, but in November 2003, over the objections of the administration, the US Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. These men and other detainees were being held incommunicado, without benefit of counsel and with no charges being brought against them. The administration had said US courts had no jurisdiction over them, but the Supreme Court disagreed, ruling in Rasul v. Bush (2004) that the detainees had habeas corpus rights as Guantanamo base was effectively an extension of US territory.[7]

It was the first time in history that the Court had ruled against the president on behalf of alleged enemy fighters in wartime. And it was the first of four Supreme Court decisions between 2004 and 2008 that rejected President Bush’s assertion of unchecked executive power in the “war on terror.”[2]

This meant the detainees could be represented by counsel, and the CCR was among the groups that worked to obtain legal representation for each of the men. This led to hundreds of men being released after court challenges. Ratner and the CCR were also involved in other cases challenging the administration on its treatment of these men.[8]

In 2007, Ratner filed a complaint in the courts of France requesting the criminal prosecution of US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and other US officials for the abuse and torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.[9]

Ratner served as a special counsel to Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, assisting in the prosecution of human rights crimes. Ratner sued the George H. W. Bush administration to try to stop the Gulf War, the Clinton administration to try to stop the strategic bombing during the Kosovo War, and he won a case on behalf of victims of the Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadžić, for war crimes.

The Center for Constitutional Rights[edit]

The Center for Constitutional Rights, which Ratner led, states that its mission is to defend civil liberties in the US. The group's efforts have included a legal challenge to the USA PATRIOT Act and a lawsuit on behalf of post-9/11 immigration detainees in the US.[10] The Center also represented Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen who was "rendered", to Syria, where he was tortured. Ratner and his office have also sued two private military companies working as part of the occupation of Iraq, alleging their employees were involved in the Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuse.

Writings[edit]

Ratner published books and written newspaper articles about the Patriot Act, military tribunals, and the restriction of civil liberties since the 2001 US attacks. These writings include chapters in the books Disappeared in America, Freedom at Risk, It’s a Free Country, Lost Liberties. He authored a textbook on the case of Joel Filártiga, a Paraguayan who won a 1984 judgment in a US court against the dictatorship of Alfredo Stroessner for his son's murder. That case established a legal precedent[citation needed] now used frequently] by foreigners filing suit for human rights abuses, under the Alien Tort Claims Act, in US courts.

Death[edit]

Michael Ratner died on May 11, 2016. According to The New York Times, citing his brother, Bruce, the cause of death was complications from cancer.[1]

Recognition and board appointments[edit]

  • 2009, Courage of Conviction Award on behalf of the University of Iowa Center for Human Rights
  • 2008, William J. Butler Human Rights Medal from the Urban Morgan Institute for Human Rights at the University of Cincinnati College of Law for leadership on behalf of the Center for Constitutional Rights for the defense of prisoners on Guantanamo.
  • 2007, Puffin/Nation Prize for Creative Citizenship[11]
  • 2006, The National Law Journal named Ratner as one of the 100 most influential lawyers in the United States.
  • 2006, Honored as the Trial Lawyer of the Year by the Trial Lawyers for Public Justice.
  • 2006, Brandeis University Alumni achievement award;
  • 2006, Lennon Ono Peace Grant from Yoko Ono on behalf of the Center for Constitutional Rights
  • 2006, Winner of the Letelier-Moffit award from the Institute for Policy Studies on behalf of the Center for Constitutional Rights and the NYC Jobs with Justice award.
  • 2006, Hans Litten Prize, named after a famous anti-fascist lawyer who was tortured to death by the Nazis. Awarded in Berlin
  • 2005, The Columbia Law School Public Interest Law Foundation Award, and the Columbia Law School Medal of Honor
  • 2005, given the North Star Community Frederick Douglass Award, and made an Honorary Fellow University of Pennsylvania Law School
  • 2005, Marshall T. Meyer Risk-Taker Award

Ratner was the President of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights in Berlin. His service on the boards of non-profits included The Culture Project, The Brandeis Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life, and The Real News (TRNN).

Publications[edit]

Books[edit]

  • 1996, International Human Rights Litigation in U.S. Courts (with Beth Stephens), Transnational Publishers, ISBN 0-941320-95-2
  • 1997, Che Guevara and the FBI: U.S. Political Police Dossier on the Latin American Revolutionary, Ocean Press, ISBN 1-875284-76-1
  • 2000, The Pinochet Papers: The Case of Augusto Pinochet in Spain and Britain (with Brody), Kluwer Law International, ISBN 9041114041
  • 2003, Against War with Iraq: An Anti-War Primer (with Jennie Green and Barbara Olshansky), Open Media, ISBN 1-58322-591-9
  • 2004, Guantanamo: What the World Should Know (with Ellen Ray), Chelsea Green Publishing Company, ISBN 1-931498-64-4
  • 2008, International Human Rights Litigation in U.S. Courts with Beth Stephens, Judith Chomsky, Jennifer Green, Paul Hoffman, ISBN 978-1-57105-353-4
  • 2008, The Prosecution of Donald Rumsfeld: A Prosecution by Book ISBN 1-59558-341-6
  • 2011, "Hell No: Your Right to Dissent in 21st-Century America" (with Margaret Ratner Kunstler), The New Press, ISBN 1-595585-40-0

Book chapters[edit]

  • 2004, America's Disappeared: Secret Imprisonment, Detainees, and the "War on Terror" (with Barbara Olshansky and Rachel Meeropol), ISBN 1-58322-645-1
  • 2006 “Civil Remedies for Gross Human Rights Violations” Human Rights in the World Community: Issues And Action (edited by Richard Pierre Claude & Burns H. Weston) University of Pennsylvania Press, ISBN 0812281632
  • 2003 “The War on Terrorism: Guantanamo Prisoners, Military Commissions and Torture” in Lost Liberties: Ashcroft and the Assault on Personal Freedom (edited by Cynthia Brown), The New Press, ISBN 1565848292
  • “International Law” (with Jules Lobel) Power Trip: U.S. Unilateralism and Global Strategy After September 11 (edited by John Feffer), Seven Stories Press, 2003, ISBN 158322579X

Articles[edit]

  • 1988 "Freedom at Risk; It's a Free Country: Secrecy, Censorship, and Repression in the 1980s" (edited by Richard O. Curry), Temple University Press
  • 1998 "How We Closed the Guantanamo HIV Camp: The Intersection of Politics and Litigation"
  • 1999 "Bypassing the Security Council: Ambiguous Authorizations to Use Force, Cease Fires, and the Iraqi Inspection Regime, (with Lobel)
  • 2003 "Lost Liberties: Ashcroft and the Assault on Personal Freedom" (edited by Cynthia Brown), The New Press
  • 2008 "The Lawyer's Story” in The Coroma Textile Recovery Story
  • 2007 "Guantanamo: Five Years and Counting" (with Sara Miles) Salon.com
  • 2007 "War Criminals “Is Waterboarding Torture? Ask the Prisoners" Salon.com November 6, 2007
  • 2007 "Above the Law" (with Sara Miles), Salon.com, March 31, 2007
  • 2006 "Keep the Great Writ Alive" (with Sara Miles) Salon.com, September 26, 2006
  • 2005 "Wrong About Rights" (with Sara Miles) Salon.com, November 10, 2005

Footnotes[edit]

External links[edit]