Michael Ratner would have treated the pursuit of Osama bin Laden as a law enforcement matter, not as a matter of war. He would rather have seen bin Laden arrested, brought to trial, and given the rights of a criminal defendant than shot on the spot by Navy SEALS.
This almost certainly doesn’t put Ratner in the mainstream of American opinion, but it is consistent with what Ratner has advocated as president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, a New York-based non-profit organization, and as an attorney who has played key roles in defending the legal rights of prisoners at the military prison at Guantanamo Bay and in opposing interrogation techniques Ratner considers torture.
Ratner visited Eckstein Hall last week to speak to about 20 people at a lunch session of the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy, Milwaukee Lawyer Chapter.
Ratner realizes where the preponderance of American opinion lies on the killing on May 1 of bin Laden. “No one really cares whether he was lawfully killed or not,” he said. “People wanted him killed.”
President Barack Obama said justice was done. But to Ratner, justice being done would have meant putting bin Laden on trial. “The US has never actually put out the evidence that he (bin Laden) was” the master planner behind the attacks on September 11, 2001, against the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., Ratner said.
Ratner said his organization has strongly advocated using the law enforcement model in approaching terror suspects, which is why it has led efforts to give those detained at Guantanamo rights such as habeas corpus. The US Supreme Court has ruled in favor of extending at least some rights to those at Guantanamo in cases in which Ratner played a role.
Ratner had little praise for President Obama’s work on issues such as using techniques many consider torture in dealing with terrorism suspects. “We all had these great hopes for Obama,” he said. But two years after Obama became president and said he wanted to close Guantanamo, the military detention operation there looks more permanent than ever, Ratner said.
Ratner said that on the issues that are his priorities, Obama “has not been great.” He gave the president credit for eliminating the secret prisons US agents had operated around the world. But Obama said at one point that the US should look forward, rather than backward, when deciding whether to consider action against those who gave permission to engage in extreme techniques for questioning terror suspects during the administration of President George W. Bush. Ratner called that “one of the most disingenuous statements I could hear. “ He said, “He’s looking forward to a country that may well torture again.”