von Bill Bowring, Rechtsanwalt, Professor für Verfassungs- und Völkerrecht am Birkbeck College, University of London
It is a great honour for me to introduce to you the eminent lawyer and freedom fighter, Michael Ratner. For Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld he must be one of the most hated figures of all, not least because he is an American, one of those precious Americans who take liberty and justice seriously.
One of the most right-wing blog sites pays Michael the following compliment:
“The general leading the force to free the captive enemy from the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo Bay, and inflict a humiliating defeat on the United States is so-called “civil rights” and “Constitutional” attorney Michael Ratner. It was Ratner who led the way in recruiting elite lawyers to defend the enemy combatants being interrogated at Gitmo. But Ratner is a long-time leader of two pro-Communist and anti-American organizations who have for decades lent aid and comfort to America's enemies in the Cold War and beyond.”
Michael Ratner began his legal career in the late 1960s at the National Lawyers Guild, a Soviet created front group which still embraces its Communist heritage. He worked his way up through the NLG’s radical ranks to become its president, then moved on to hold the same position at the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), which shares the NLG's anti-American radicalism and was founded by pro-Castro lawyers Arthur Kinoy and William Kunstler. Among its many outrages, the CCR has defended domestic and international terrorists, and has honored Ratner's NLG colleague and convicted terrorist enabler Lynne Stewart, a modern Legal Left idol. Since 9/11, Ratner and his comrades have attempted to extend undeserved “civil rights” to Islamist murderers with notable success. On this front, Ratner and the Legal Left have dealt America some of its few setbacks in the War on Terror.” ( The Man Behind the Attack on Guantanamo by Rocco DiPippo, FrontPageMagazine.com, June 16, 2005, http://frontpagemag.com/Articles/ReadArticle.asp?ID=18446)
Do I need to say more?
I believe I am qualified in more than one way to speak to about him. Michael’s formative experiences somehow seem to have coincided with my own. As a law student at Columbia University, he was pushed to the ground and beaten by the police in 1968 as he and other students blocked the entrance to a building occupied by protesters. This would turn out to be one of those defining moments. Mr. Ratner, who would graduate second in his class, got up, looked at his bloodied fellow protesters and decided to become a rebel. "That night was crucial," he recently told a journalist. "An event like this created the activists of the next generation. I never looked back. I decided I was going to spend my life on the side of justice and nonviolence."
I was in the USA as well in 1968, and with many others was beaten up by Mayor Daly’s police and the national guard he called in, in his attempt to intimidate the anti-Vietnam war protestors who gathered in Chicago at the Democratic Party Convention to oppose Hubert Humphrey and to support Eugene McCarthy.
Michael was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1943 and is the brother of radio talk show host and Fox News contributor Ellen Ratner. He has said he still found delight in all battles, big and small. He pushes his two children to demonstrations and proudly explained that his daughter petitioned the Parks Department to change the swings in the local park from baby swings to children's swings. He just read "The Count of Monte Cristo," "a man who was jailed for no reason and went out and got revenge," to his son. His wife of 16 years, Karen Ranucci, runs a nonprofit group that distributes Latin American videos to universities and educational institutions and works for "Democracy Now," a syndicated radio and television program. They live in Greenwich Village. When he is not , he is fly-fishing in streams in upstate New York or exploring the foundations of old houses in the woods. As a boy growing up in Cleveland, he dreamed of being an archaeologist.
Now he is president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, a non-profit organization that litigates civil and human rights cases. He has worked or been affiliated with the advocacy group since graduating from law school. He is also an attorney, lectures on international human rights litigation at Columbia Law School, and he is a lecturer and the Skelly Wright Fellow at Yale Law School.
Michael is also a past president of the National Lawyers Guild. Maybe you all know that the Guild is the counterpart of the VDJ in the USA. The Guild and the VDJ are both members of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, which has its own proud traditions of struggle with national liberation movements and against imperialism. And the VDJ is the founder member of the European Association of Lawyers for Democracy and Human Rights, which works with IADL, and of which I am proud to have been elected president.
Michael is the author of numerous books and articles, including the books Against War with Iraq and Guantanamo: What the World Should Know, a textbook on international human rights, and a leading book on Pinochet.
He was co-counsel in representing the Guantanamo Bay detainees in the United States Supreme Court, where his clients won a major victory in June, 2004 that gave them the right to test the legality of their detentions.
This is not the first prize with which Michael has been honoured. He was chosen as the Trial Lawyer of the Year by the Trial lawyers for Public Justice. Other awards include The Columbia Law School Public Interest Law Foundation Award, the Columbia Law School Medal of Honor (January 21, 2005), the North Star Community Frederick Douglass Award and Honorary Fellow University of Pennsylvania Law School (May 16, 2005). In 2006 the National Law Journal named Michael as one of the 100 most influential lawyers in the United States. Michael also received the Brandeis University Alumni achievement award in 2006. In 2006 he received the Lennon Ono Peace Grant from Yoko Ono on behalf of the Center for Constitutional Rights; the Letelier-Moffit award from the Institute for Policy Studies on behalf of the Center for Constiutional Rights and the NYC Jobs with Justice award.
The Center for Constitutional Rights (originally "Law Center for Constitutional Rights") was founded in November 1966 by attorneys Morton Stavis, Arthur Kinoy, Ben Smith and William Kunstler, whose legal work representing civil rights activists in Mississippi convinced them of the need for a privately funded legal center to undertake innovative, impact litigation on behalf of popular movements for social justice. Robert Boehm, who worked with the CCR from its inception, was instrumental in the effort to turn the vision of the founders into a reality. Peter Weiss became part of CCR early in its history and has played an outstanding role, especially in the area of international human rights.
Born out of the early experiences of its founders, CCR develops pro-active legal strategies to address pressing problems and ensure that the basic rights of all citizens are protected under the law. From the beginning, the Centre used innovative impact litigation to move the law forward and facilitate the construction of a more just society.
Today, CCR continues to craft litigation that exposes the fundamental contradictions in American society that undermine the promise of justice for all: fault lines of race, class and gender; the ascendancy of global corporate privilege over individual rights; the intersection of poverty, race, and industrial pollution; and the indifference with which governments around the world continue to violate the human rights of their citizens.
In 1980, CCR’s landmark case Filártiga v. Peña-Irala created a right to sue for human rights violations occurring anywhere in the world under the then-obscure Alien Tort Claims Act. For 35 years, CCR has served as an incubator for progressive lawyering, producing numerous important precedents and innovative legal strategies that have become an established part of law and the legal culture.
In January, 2006, he served as an expert witness at a 'tribunal' staged by the Bush Crimes Commission at Columbia University. He owns a baseball cap with the words "Guantanamo Bay Bar Association”
Michael has litigated numerous cases opposing US initiated wars from Central America to Iraq. He is assisting with the criminal complaint in the courts of Germany against U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and other US officials seeking the initiation of criminal prosecutions against them for the abuse and torture at Abu Ghraib prison. I am proud to be involved in this initiative, led by my colleague Wolfgang Kaleck.
Michael 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 stop the Gulf War, the Bill Clinton administration to stop the bombing of Kosovo, and he successfully sued on behalf of victims of the Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, for war crimes.
The Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers, the VDJ, and the EALDH are all proud and delighted that Michael agreed to accept this year’s prize. Indeed, the choice of prize-winner was not a hard task at all. Michael is an outstanding recipient. It is a great honour to have Michael as our comrade in struggle.
But that’s enough from me. Let me hand over to tonight’s prize-winner.