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Guest speaker: Constitutional rights have declined

Nov. 10, 2011


In a speech on Oct. 26 in the Moot Court Room, Michael Ratner, the president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, said that rights have been eviscerated since the attacks of Sept. 11 due to the Guantanamo syndrome.

According to Ratner, the Guantanamo syndrome refers to detaining suspects indefinitely without a trial. If a trial is held, it is usually by military commission.

Ratner experienced the Sept. 11 attack first hand. He was jogging past the World Trade Center when the hijacked planes crashed into the building. He believed instead of declaring war, the correct response was to treat the tragedy as a crime and bring the wrongdoers to justice.

Instead, Ratner said President George W. Bush declared war and claimed that the rules of the Geneva Convention did not apply. The consequence was when the U.S. military captured unlawful combatants and alleged terrorists in the military, they ended up using interrogation methods bordering on torture in the internment camps, which made the prosecution complicated and allowed the military to hold them indefinitely without trial.

Ratner called this process the Guantanamo syndrome, and believes it gives the military too much power to kidnap people and hold them forever at Guantanamo.

“Once you get a scheme like Guantanamo happening in the world, it stats creeping into the justice system,” Ratner said.

He went on to say that many of the people detained in Guantanamo have been cleared by the U.S. government, but still remain in captivity. Ratner said another 40 people are scheduled for some sort of trial, but it has taken 10 years for the trials to be approved.

“We can be here another 10 years, and I bet you those 40 will still not be tried,” Ratner said.

Ratner also reminded the audience that President Barack Obama declared Guantanamo to close, but it still remains open.

Most people in the audience seemed to agree with Ratner’s view. Milena Sterio, an associate professor within the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, shared a similar viewpoint with Ratner.

“[I] would like to witness a closure of the Guantanamo detention facility, as President Obama has promised he would do, as well as an end to the practices of rendition and any other form of indefinite detention,” Sterio said. “I would also hope that the United States would no longer engage in ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ such as water boarding, as these constitute torture and are clearly prohibited under international law.”

Ratner warned the audience that if Guantanamo remains open, then it becomes a world-wide detention center that will be very difficult to change.

The speech was part of the Friedman & Gilbert Criminal Justice Forum series at the College of Law