From the Attica Riots, where he filed on behalf of prisoners killed and injured, to Julian Assange; Michael Ratner defended, investigated and spoke up for victims of Human Rights abuses all over the world. For 45 years, Michael brought cases with the Center for Constitutional Rights in U.S. courts related to war, torture, and other atrocities, sometimes committed by the U.S., sometimes by other regimes or corporations; from El Salvador (where in 1988, he brought the first challenge under the War Powers Resolution to the use of US troops), Grenada, Guatemala, Nicaragua (suing U.S. officials in 1988 on behalf of Nicaraguans raped, murdered and tortured by U.S.-backed contras), Cuba, Haiti, Puerto Rico, and Guatemala, to Yugoslavia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Iraq, and Israel. In 1991, he led the center’s challenge to the authority of President George H.W. Bush to go to war against Iraq without congressional consent. A decade later, he would become a leading critic of the George W. Bush administration, filing lawsuits related to Guantánamo, torture, domestic surveillance and the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Seeking to hold the George W. Bush administration officials accountable for torture, he turned to filing cases under the principle of Universal jurisdiction in international courts — in Germany, Spain, Canada, Switzerland, and France. Michael dedicated his life to the most important fights for justice of the last half century.
When Michael decided to take on U.S. policies of indefinite detention at Guantanamo in January 2002, it was not a popular position. With Michael, the Center for Constitutional Rights became the first human rights organization to stand up for the rights of Guantanamo detainees, and Michael was a founding member of the Guantanamo Bay Bar Association, a group that grew to over 500 attorneys from all over the country working pro bono to provide representation to the men at Guantanamo that has been called the largest mass defense effort in U.S. history. Michael acted as counsel in the landmark case Rasul v. Bush and after two and a half years of litigation, CCR and co-counsel won the first Guantanamo case in the high court.
As an attorney, writer, speaker, educator, activist, and as the President of the Center for Constitutional Rights for so many years, Michael Ratner’s passion was not just for the law but for the struggle for Justice and Peace. Michael’s work on Central America, Haiti, surveillance, WikiLeaks and Julian Assange, whistleblowers, war powers, and Palestine (where he helped launch the group Palestine Legal) to defend the rights of protesters in the U.S. calling for Palestinian human rights) will not soon be matched (nor forgotten). Michael’s leadership and generous spirit have shown the way for new generations of social justice lawyers. He helped found the ECCHR – European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights bringing CCR’s style of lawyering, which he helped shape, to Europe, where the legal culture was less familiar with Public interest lawyers and filing suits to press for social change. He worked with CCR and the Bertha Justice Institute on programs to educate junior lawyers, working in partnership with front-line organizations around the world and fostering artistic partnerships that bring the issues he championed his entire life to a wider audience.
Michael’s legacy is the sea of people he has touched—his family, his clients, his allies, his colleagues, and all of the young lawyers he has inspired.
Today we mourn. Tomorrow we carry on his work.
Viva La Revolución