Michael Ratner

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Michael Ratner in front of the US Supreme Court

Michael Ratner (born 1943, Cleveland, Ohio) is an attorney, President Emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), a non-profit human rights litigation organization based in New York City and president of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) based in Berlin.

Ratner is known for his human rights activism.

Ratner and CCR are currently the attorneys in the United States for publishers Julian Assange and Wikileaks. He was co-counsel in representing the Guantanamo Bay detainees in the United States Supreme Court, where, in June 2004, the court decided his clients have the right to test the legality of their detentions in court. Ratner is also a past president of the National Lawyers Guild and the author of numerous books and articles, including the books The Trial of Donald Rumsfeld: A Prosecution by Book, Against War with Iraq and Guantanamo: What the World Should Know, as well as a textbook on international human rights. Ratner is also the co-host of the radio program, Law and Disorder. He and three other attorneys host the Pacifica Radio show that reports legal developments related to civil liberties, civil rights and human rights.

Ratner is the brother of radio talk show host and Fox News contributor Ellen Ratner and New Jersey Nets owner, Bruce Ratner. He is a 1966 graduate of Brandeis University. He received his law degree from Columbia Law School.

Academic, activist, attorney and author

Press conference with Amnesty International and CCR in front of the US Supreme Court, 2006

Teaching posts

Ratner began teaching law in the early 1970s but no longer does so. He has taught at Columbia Law School and at Yale Law School.


Of late he has been active defending Julian Assange and Wikileaks as well as speaking out on behalf of Jermy Hammond and Chelsea Manning, alleged Wikileaks sources.

Ratner opposes Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuse and the Iraq War. In January 2006, he served as an expert witness at a mock tribunal staged by the Bush Crimes Commission at Columbia University.

In June 2013, Ratner and numerous other celebrities appeared in a video showing support for Chelsea Manning.[1][2]

In May 2014, Michael Ratner submitted his resignation from the advisory board of the International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life at Brandeis, due to the university's president cutting ties with Al Quds, a Palestinian University, after a student demonstration there. Rattner declared his support for Al Quds' President, Dr Nusseibeh, and his promotion of "mutual respect, peaceful coexistence and the exchange of ideas" with Israelis.[3]

Civil liberties and human rights counsel

In 2006 he filed a criminal complaint in the courts of Germany requesting the criminal prosecution of US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and other US officials for the abuse and torture at Abu Ghraib prison.

Ratner 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 try to stop the Gulf War, the Clinton administration to try to stop the strategic bombing during the Kosovo War, and he won a case on behalf of victims of the Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadžić, for war crimes.

The Center for Constitutional Rights

The Center for Constitutional Rights, which Ratner leads, states that its mission is to defend civil liberties in the US. The group's efforts have included a legal challenge to the USA PATRIOT Act and a lawsuit on behalf of post-9/11 immigration detainees in the US. The Center also represented Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen who was sent, or "rendered", to Syria, where he was tortured. Ratner and his office have also sued two private military companies working as part of the occupation of Iraq, alleging their employees were involved in the Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuse.


Ratner has published books and written newspaper articles about the Patriot Act, military tribunals, and the restriction of civil liberties since the 2001 US attacks. These writings include chapters in the books Disappeared in America, Freedom at Risk, It’s a Free Country, Lost Liberties. He authored a textbook on the case of Joel Filártiga, a Paraguayan who won a 1984 judgment in a US court against the dictatorship of Alfredo Stroessner for his son's murder. That case established a legal precedent[citation needed] now used frequently] by foreigners filing suit for human rights abuses, under the Alien Tort Claims Act, in US courts.

Recognition and board appointments

  • 2009, Courage of Conviction Award on behalf of the University of Iowa Center for Human Rights
  • 2008, William J. Butler Human Rights Medal from the Urban Morgan Institute for Human Rights at the University of Cincinnati College of Law for leadership on behalf of the Center for Constitutional Rights for the defense of prisoners on Guantanamo.
  • 2007, Puffin/Nation Prize for Creative Citizenship[4]
  • 2006, The National Law Journal named Ratner as one of the 100 most influential lawyers in the United States.
  • 2006, Honored as the Trial Lawyer of the Year by the Trial Lawyers for Public Justice.
  • 2006, Brandeis University Alumni achievement award;
  • 2006, Lennon Ono Peace Grant from Yoko Ono on behalf of the Center for Constitutional Rights
  • 2006, Winner of the Letelier-Moffit award from the Institute for Policy Studies on behalf of the Center for Constitutional Rights and the NYC Jobs with Justice award.
  • 2006, Winner of Hans Litten Prize, named after a famous anti-fascist lawyer who was tortured to death by the Nazis. Awarded in Berlin
  • 2005, Winner of The Columbia Law School Public Interest Law Foundation Award, and the Columbia Law School Medal of Honor
  • 2005, Winner of the North Star Community Frederick Douglass Award, and Honorary Fellow University of Pennsylvania Law School
  • 2005, Winner of the Marshall T. Meyer Risk-Taker Award

Ratner is the President of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights in Berlin and serves on the boards of non-profits including The Culture Project and The Brandeis Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life, and The Real News (TRNN).

Quotes related to human rights

  • "Alberto Gonzales has his hand deep in the blood of the conspiracy of torture."[5]
  • "Can the United States pick up people anywhere in the world, take them to an offshore prison camp and not have any hearings at all and keep them forever and basically wipe out court review of those cases? That's really significant. Are we going to be a state that's ruled by law and by checks and balances and the Constitution and human rights?"[6]
  • Guantanamo is "an offshore Devil's Island has no place in a country that claims it abides by the rule of law. The test now is to see if the Democrats cut the funding off for this human rights abomination."[7]



  • 1996, International Human Rights Litigation in U.S. Courts (with Beth Stephens), Transnational Publishers, ISBN 0-941320-95-2
  • 1997, Che Guevara and the FBI: U.S. Political Police Dossier on the Latin American Revolutionary, Ocean Press, ISBN 1-875284-76-1
  • 2000, The Pinochet Papers: The Case of Augusto Pinochet in Spain and Britain (with Brody), Kluwer
  • 2003, Against War with Iraq: An Anti-War Primer (with Jennie Green and Barbara Olshansky), Open Media, ISBN 1-58322-591-9
  • 2004, Guantanamo: What the World Should Know (with Ellen Ray), Chelsea Green Publishing Company, ISBN 1-931498-64-4
  • 2008, International Human Rights Litigation in U.S. Courts with Beth Stephens, Judith Chomsky, Jennifer Green, Paul Hoffman, ISBN 978-1-57105-353-4
  • 2008, The Prosecution of Donald Rumsfeld: A Prosecution by Book ISBN 1-59558-341-6
  • 2011, "Hell No: Your Right to Dissent in 21st-Century America" (with Margaret Ratner Kunstler), The New Press, ISBN 1-595585-40-0

Book chapters

  • 2004, America's Disappeared: Secret Imprisonment, Detainees, and the "War on Terror" (with Barbara Olshansky and Rachel Meeropol), ISBN 1-58322-645-1
  • 2006 “Civil Remedies for Gross Human Rights Violations” Human Rights in the World Community: Issues And Action (Richard Pierre Claude, Burns H. Weston) University of Pennsylvania Press
  • 2003 “The War on Terrorism: Guantanamo Prisoners, Military Commissions and Torture” in Lost Liberties: Ashcroft and the Assault on Personal Freedom (edited by Cynthia Brown), The New Press
  • “International Law” (with Jules Lobel) Power Trip: U.S. Unilateralism and Global Strategy After September 11 (John Feffer), Seven Stories Press, 2003


  • 1988 "Freedom at Risk; It's a Free Country: Secrecy, Censorship, and Repression in the 1980s" (edited by Richard O. Curry), Temple University Press
  • 1998 "How We Closed the Guantanamo HIV Camp: The Intersection of Politics and Litigation"
  • 1999 "Bypassing the Security Council: Ambiguous Authorizations to Use Force, Cease Fires, and the Iraqi Inspection Regime, (with Lobel)
  • 2003 "Lost Liberties: Ashcroft and the Assault on Personal Freedom" (edited by Cynthia Brown), The New Press
  • 2008 "The Lawyer's Story” in The Coroma Textile Recovery Story
  • 2007 "Guantanamo: Five Years and Counting" (with Sara Miles) Salon.com
  • 2007 "War Criminals “Is Waterboarding Torture? Ask the Prisoners" Salon.com November 6, 2007
  • 2007 "Above the Law" (with Sara Miles), Salon.com, March 31, 2007
  • 2006 "Keep the Great Writ Alive" (with Sara Miles) Salon.com, September 26, 2006
  • 2005 "Wrong About Rights" (with Sara Miles) Salon.com, November 10, 2005


External links