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. Bushthat 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.
Ratner is a longtime member in good standing of the hard left. He is described in Jane Mayer’s book The Dark Side as having “been a leader of the legal brigade of the progressive movement” since “the Vietnam war years.” Mayer wrote that Ratner had “gotten under the skin of foreign dictators and multinational corporations by suing them for human rights violations in the U.S. courts.” But Ratner did not get under the skin of all foreign dictators. He had a soft spot for the regime of Fidel Castro and particularly for Che Guevara. In 1997, Ratner published a book on Che, declaring the Cuban revolutionary a Heroic Guerrilla. Ratner describes his experience of hiking in Cuba’s Sierra Maestra mountains in 1976, following the path of Che, when he came upon a group of Cuban schoolchildren: “Each was holding a handwritten placard, and singing the words written thereon: ‘Seremos como Che.’ ‘We will be like Che.’ Tears streamed down my cheeks, my energy was renewed, and I completed the hike.”
In his book, Ratner wrote evocatively of his love of Che. So while Ratner reviles America’s treatment of terrorists held at Guantánamo Bay, he idolizes the man who created Cuba’s KGB-style political prisons and served as Castro’s chief executioner. I asked Ratner if he had ever worked for Cuban prisoners. “No one’s asked me to do it; I haven’t done it,” he said. Of course, no one asked Ratner to represent Majid Khan, Jose Padilla, Mohammed al-Qahtani, or the other al Qaeda terrorists on CCR’s client list. CCR sought them out. The fact is Ratner and the Center for Constitutional Rights have made it their business to represent America’s enemies for more than four decades. This was their business during the Cold War, and it is thriving during the war on terror.