Michael Ratner, Fearless Human Rights Lawyer for Iraqis and Palestine Activists, Dies at 72
BY: Nisreen Eadeh/Staff Writer
Michael Ratner, a courageous civil and human rights lawyer, died yesterday, May 11, at the age of 72. According to his brother Bruce, Ratner’s cause of death was due to complications of cancer. As President Emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights, Ratner was probably most known for his leadership in gathering fellow lawyers to challenge the U.S. government’s indefinite detention of Guantanamo Bay prisoners.
Ratner was the first lawyer to file a lawsuit on behalf of Guantanamo Bay detainees who were accused of terrorism. In 2008, he brought the first Guantanamo prisoners to court for a fair trial, where the Supreme Court ruled that they “had a constitutional right to habeas corpus.” This case made Ratner the first lawyer to provoke a Supreme Court decision that went against a president during wartime.
Also highly notable, was Ratner’s opposition to the Iraq War and the torture of Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib. He sued two private military companies for their occupation of Iraq and their involvement with torturing prisoners. Ratner also used international courts to request the criminal prosecution of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and other U.S. officials, for their involvement with Abu Ghraib.
The lawyer was most revered in the Arab American community, though, for founding Palestine Legal – the nonprofit that defends protestors “who speak out for Palestinian freedom.” Many Arab Americans, particularly college students, have used the services of Palestine Legal to fight against bullying toward activists for Palestinian rights, anti-BDS laws introduced in state legislations, and the chilling effect that occurs in Palestine solidarity.
His father was a Jewish immigrant from Russia, and his mother worked to resettle refugees. Both of his parents had many relatives who died during the Holocaust. The generosity of his parents and his personal background propelled him into college activism during the 1960s when he began his career with the NAACP, where he worked to help desegregate a Baltimore school.
Afterwards, he joined the Center for Constitutional Rights, which was founded to defend civil liberties of disenfranchised people. His career has been defined by his work in combatting: torture of any kind; unlawful surveillance of all Americans; abuses of power by law enforcement; civil rights infringement of refugees, prisoners, and activists; prosecution of whistleblowers; and so much more. He will be greatly missed in the social justice community, where he served as one of the highest examples of a true human rights activist.