Meet Michael Ratner, lead terrorist defender.
In recent weeks, controversy has erupted over demands that the Obama administration release the names of lawyers working in the Justice Department who once represented or advocated for captured al Qaeda terrorists. But amid the debate, one name has thus far mostly escaped mention: Michael Ratner. Don’t know him? You should. Ratner is the president of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), the organization that is leading the legal crusade on behalf of the al Qaeda detainees.
The center was founded in 1966 by William Kunstler and a group of radical lawyers. Its name is an Orwellian play on words—implying that the organization’s purpose is to defend our constitutional system when its real objective is just the opposite. As Kunstler once told the New York Times, he considered himself a “double agent” whose goal was “working within the system to bring down the system.”
For more than four decades, the center has been true to this mission. Since its founding, CCR lawyers have represented violent radicals, Communist fronts, cop-killers, and sworn enemies of the United States. But following the attacks of September 11, 2001, CCR made its way into the judicial mainstream. In 2004, the center won a major legal victory when the Supreme Court ruled 6 to 3 in Rasul v. Bush that foreign combatants captured on the battlefield in Afghanistan can challenge their detention in U.S. civilian courts. This ruling unleashed a flood of habeas corpus cases, and suddenly CCR found itself coordinating the work of hundreds of pro-bono lawyers from top flight law firms filing suit on behalf of terrorist detainees. According to its website, “CCR has led the legal battle over detentions and conditions at Guantánamo for more than six years, and coordinates the efforts of more than 500 pro bono lawyers” fighting to release Guantánamo detainees in what it terms the “so-called ‘war on terror.’ ”
In addition to playing a coordinating role in over 200 detainee cases, CCR directly represents a number of terrorist detainees. CCR’s current clients include Jose Padilla, the American-born terrorist sent by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to blow up apartment buildings in a major American city; Mohammed al-Qahtani, the 20th hijacker in the 9/11 plot, who would have been on United Flight 93 had he not been turned away by immigration officials at the Orlando airport; and Majid Khan, an al Qaeda operative groomed by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed for suicide missions against America.
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