Moving the Bar

MY LIFE AS A RADICAL LAWYER


MICHAEL RATNER

With an Introduction by MICHAEL SMITH


“If you care as deeply and passionately as Michael Ratner, the suffering of the oppressed forces you to become a radical.” — Chris Hedges

Buy This Book


PRE-ORDER NOW AND GET 15% OFF. BOOKS WILL SHIP IN DECEMBER.

Paperback:
$20/£16

15% off

add to cart
E-book:
$10/£8

15% off

add to cart
Print + E-book:
$24/£19

15% off

add to cart

FAQs and shipping information

About the Book

Michael Ratner was one of America’s leading human rights lawyers. In a career that spanned five decades up to his death in 2016, Ratner was involved in a wide range of high-profile cases. From working with William Kunstler in pursuing justice after the notorious prison massacre at Attica, to representing the revolutionary governments in Cuba and Nicaragua and prisoners interned at Guantanamo Bay in the wake of 9/11, through to being Julian Assange’s principal US lawyer, Ratner never shied away from taking on difficult, controversial cases.

After growing up the eldest child of a religious Jewish family in Cleveland, Ratner eschewed the opportunity to take over his father’s construction company and traveled, instead, to New York City to study law at Columbia University. There, he graduated top of his class despite being heavily involved in the student protests against the Vietnam War that roiled the campus. It was a radicalizing experience for Ratner, the beginning of a lifelong commitment to socialism and human rights, beliefs that were given full rein in his subsequent work at the National Lawyers Guild, where he was president, and at the Center for Constitutional Rights, an organization subsequently led for many years.

In this fast-paced memoir Ratner relates a life that was no stranger to professional defeat, and where victories were generally hard won, relying on a steely determination and an innovative approach to the law in pursuing justice on behalf of those with little power or money. At a time when the law has once again become the focus for intense political conflict his life and work stand as an enduring example for those who seek to advance progressive causes through the courts.

240 pages • Paperback ISBN 978-1-68219-309-9 • E-book ISBN 978-1-68219-250-4

About the Author

Michael Ratner author photo

space after caption

Michael Ratner (1943-2016) was a New York-based civil rights attorney and a lifelong socialist. He was president of the National Lawyers Guild and the Center for Constitutional Rights and the author of several books including The Trial of Donald Rumsfeld: A Prosecution by Book, Against War with Iraq, Guantanamo: What the World Should Know, and (with Michael Smith) Who Killed Che?: How the CIA Got Away With Murder.

Read an Excerpt

Shortly after the release of the Iraq War Logs, Len Weinglass and I were finally able to arrange our meeting with Assange. We met him in Marylebone in central London at a studio apartment that belonged to Jennifer Robinson, one of his lawyers who was away at the time.

WikiLeaks had no physical office. It existed only in cyberspace. Nor did Assange have a permanent residence. He was living the same kind of nomadic life that he’d led as a teenager in Australia, moving from city to city, apartment to apartment.

Len struggled as we trudged up to the top floor of the five-floor walkup. Joseph Farrell opened the door, and that is when I got my first in-person look at Julian Assange, who greeted us warmly. Tall and slender, he had longish white hair that reminded me of Andy Warhol. He wore slacks and a plain shirt that Farrell had bought him after the suitcase with all his clothes had been lost on his recent flight from Stockholm.

With Julian was his close adviser Sarah Harrison, a 28-year-old, sandy-haired British journalist who, along with Farrell, had left London’s Bureau of Investigative Journalism earlier that year to join WikiLeaks. Julian’s British solicitor, Mark Stephens, a frizzy-haired middle-aged man dressed in a striped suit with a broad flashy tie, also joined us.

Perhaps a bit suspicious of American lawyers intruding on his turf, Stephens explained that Julian already had lawyers in Sweden dealing with the allegations there, and he was handling the legal situation in England, along with Jennifer Robinson and the Australia-born barrister Geoffrey Robertson.

“We consider the Swedish allegations a distraction,” I said. “We’ve read the police reports, and we believe the authorities don’t have a case. We’re here because in our view you are in much more jeopardy in the U.S. Len can explain why.”

Julian said nothing and turned to Len.

“WikiLeaks and you personally are facing a battle that is both legal and political,” said Len in his quiet, deliberate way. “As we learned in the Pentagon Papers case, the U.S. government doesn’t like the truth coming out. And it doesn’t like to be humiliated. No matter if it’s Nixon or Bush or Obama, Republican or Democrat in the White House. The U.S. government will try to stop you from publishing its ugly secrets. And if they have to destroy you and the First Amendment and the rights of publishers with you, they are willing to do it. We believe they are going to come after WikiLeaks and you, Julian, as the publisher.”

“Come after me for what?” asked Julian.

“Espionage. They’re going to charge Bradley Manning with treason under the Espionage Act of 1917. We don’t think it applies to him because he’s a whistleblower, not a spy. And we don’t think it applies to you either because you are a publisher. But they are going to try to force Manning into implicating you as his collaborator. That’s why it’s crucial that WikiLeaks and you personally have an American criminal lawyer to represent you.”

Julian listened carefully as we laid out possible scenarios. “The way it could happen,” I said, “is that the Justice Department could convene a secret grand jury to investigate possible charges against you. It would probably be in northern Virginia, where everyone on the jury would be a current or retired CIA employee or have worked for some other part of the military-industrial complex. They would be hostile to anyone like you who’d published U.S. government secrets. The grand jury could come up with a sealed indictment, issue a warrant for your arrest, and request extradition.”

“What happens if they extradite me?” asked Julian.

Len looked at him and said, “They fly you to where the indictment is issued. Then they put you into some hellhole in solitary, and you get treated like Bradley Manning. They put you under what they call special administrative measures, which means you probably would not be allowed communication with anyone. Maybe your lawyer could go in and talk to you, but the lawyer couldn’t say anything to the press.”

“And it’s very, very unlikely that they would give you bail,” I added.

“Is it easier to extradite from the U.K. or from Sweden?” asked Sarah Harrison.

“We don’t know the answer to that,” I replied. “My guess is that you would probably have the most support and the best legal team in a bigger country like the U.K. In a smaller country like Sweden, the U.S. can use its power to pressure the government, so it would be easier to extradite you from there. But we need to consult with a lawyer who specializes in extradition.”

Stephens looked skeptical. “You know that Julian has already offered to go to Sweden to answer the special prosecutor’s questions,” he said.

“I don’t think that’s wise,” Len said, “unless the Swedish government guarantees that Julian will not be extradited to another country because of his publishing work.”

“The problem is that Sweden doesn’t have bail,” I explained. “If they put you in jail in Stockholm and the U.S. pressures the government to extradite you, Sweden might send you immediately to the U.S. and you’d never see the light of day again. It’s far less risky to ask the Swedish prosecutor to question you in London.”

Julian looked thoughtful, taking it all in. Reserved and controlled, he didn’t show much emotion. But it was clear that he understood everything we’d said and seemed to trust us.

We all agreed that for the time being Julian should not go to Sweden. He would stay in the U.K., and we would continue to work together. Len and I volunteered to represent WikiLeaks and Julian pro bono in the U.S. with the support of CCR, and Julian accepted the offer.

In the Media