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Attorney Speaks on Fight Against Detainment, Torture


Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, gives a talk titled “Beyond the Shadows of Guantánamo: Restoring the Rule of Law in the Post-Bush Era.”

February 3, 2009

In his first public speech since the inauguration of Barack Obama, Michael Ratner ’66 reflected on his legal battles against the Bush administration on detainment and torture and changes in U.S. policy in the new administration. The president of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), a human rights litigation organization in New York City, Ratner spoke on February 2 at Brandeis’s Heller School for Social Policy and Management in a talk sponsored by the Ethics Center titled “Beyond the Shadows of Guantánamo: Restoring the Rule of Law in the Post-Bush Era.”

Ratner and CCR have represented Guantánamo Bay detainees, seeking to restore habeus corpus – the right to be charged with a crime and have their case heard in a court of law. Calling the era of the Bush administration “the worst eight years that I’ve lived through as a civil rights lawyer,” he decried the post-9/11 policy of classifying detainees as “enemy combatants” who may be held indefinitely.

“Secret detentions are primarily about torture,” he said. “That’s what it’s there for. That’s what it’s used for.”

In 2004, CCR won a Supreme Court decision establishing that Guantánamo detainees can challenge their detention in federal courts. “Our view is that there is no person currently at Guantánamo who can’t be tried or repatriated,” said Ratner, who noted that about 500 of the 750 held there at one time already have been released. Many of those imprisoned were turned in by those looking to claim a reward and were not involved in terrorism, he said.

He praised Obama’s executive order closing Guantánamo in a year as well as orders closing secret CIA prisons, applying the Army field manual to the CIA, and suspending military commissions.

“I think we’re finally going to turn a page and at least the nastiest practices of the Bush administration will be over,” he said.

Yet he cautioned that the Obama administration has not yet ceased the practice of rendition, the transfer of a person from one country to another, and may still allow practices such as isolation and sleep deprivation, which he considers to be torture.

Calling himself an “absolute prohibitionist” on torture, Ratner said that CCR is pressing for accountability of those involved in the policy of allowing torture, including lawsuits against former secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld and others in the Bush administration. While some have called for a truth commission to uncover incidents of torture, Ratner said: “The only way to send a message that this should not happen again in this country … is to prosecute people who were involved in torture.”

In his talk, Ratner also recalled his representation of previous Guantánamo detainees, refugees from Haiti who were not allowed to immigrate to the United States in the early 1990s because they were HIV positive. CCR eventually secured an order to close the detention camp. Ratner looks forward to the day when a detention facility on Guantánamo is closed again.


Michael Ratner speaks to an audience at the Heller School..