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RIP Michael Ratner, 1943-2016

Courage is deeply saddened to note the passing of Michael Ratner, a tireless campaigner for civil liberties, champion of the powerless and friend to truthtellers everywhere. Michael, a professor, lawyer, and activist, president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights and president of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, fought for Guantanamo detainees’ rights, Palestinians’ rights, and the rights of so many others who could not fight for them on their own. He was also a close and immeasurably valued friend to many at Courage and our allies.

Michael legally defended Julian Assange against extradition and WikiLeaks as a publisher, not just despite but because doing so was difficult and controversial — he saw that WikiLeaks was doing vital work that few others if any would do, and therefore needed the best defense it could get. He has spoken out often for Chelsea Manning and Jeremy Hammond, recognizing their contributions to the public good and the need to combat the aggressive persecution they endured.

RT’s Thom Hartmann spoke with Michael about his life’s work (up until 2010) in two parts:

In recent years, in addition to appearances on Democracy Now! Michael frequently appeared on The Real News Network to provide his perspective on current events, in series called Reality Asserts Itself and The Ratner Report.

We will long remember and be grateful for Michael’s work and what he meant to us professionally and personally.

Here is the CCR’s statement on Michael’s passing in full:

From Attica to Assange, Michael Ratner has defended, investigated, and spoken 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, in places ranging from El Salvador, Grenada, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Cuba, Haiti, Puerto Rico, and Guatemala, to Yugoslavia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Iraq, and Israel. Seeking to hold 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 was 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 United States Supreme 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 will not soon be matched.

Michael’s leadership and generous spirit have shown the way for new generations of social justice lawyers. He helped found the 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 lawyering 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.

Also see a tribute to Michael from his CCR colleague Vince Warren.