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Originally named the Law Center for Constitutional Rights, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) was established in November 1966 for the purpose of advancing the cause of civil rights in Mississippi. Its co-founders were attorneys Morton Stavis, Ben Smith, William Kunstler, and Arthur Kinoy (the latter of whom represented the executed Soviet spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg in the 1950s). All four of these founders were longtime supporters of communist causes and were well known for their pro-Castro politics. By “representing such paramilitary groups as the Baader-Meinhof gang and the Black Liberation Army,” write David Horowitz and Peter Collier in their 1989 book Destructive Generation, the four CCR founders “had attempted to justify terrorist acts and criminal violence by indicting America and its democratic allies as partners in a system of economic oppression and social injustice.”
Other noteworthy attorneys affiliated with CCR in its early years were Victor Rabinowitz, Leonard Boudin (father of Weather Underground terrorist Kathy Boudin), and Leonard Weinglass.
Today CCR characterizes itself as an organization that “uses litigation proactively to advance the law in a positive direction, to empower poor communities and communities of color, to guarantee the rights of those with the fewest protections and least access to legal resources, to train the next generation of constitutional and human rights attorneys, and to strengthen the broader movement for constitutional and human rights.” The Center's major issues of concern, and its position on each, include the following:
To advance its organizational objectives as a whole, CCR uses what it calls “innovative impact litigation”—not only to degrade America's cultural and political traditions, but also to undermine the nation's very legitimacy in the eyes of the world. In pursuit of these ends, the Center defends only clients whose political and ideological views it supports. Indeed, CCR makes clear that it “accepts cases and projects based on principle and the value of the struggle itself, not solely by using a calculus of victory.” Among the organization's more prominent clients have been Tom Hayden, Leonard Peltier, the Black Liberation Movement, the Black Panther Party, the Catonsville Nine, the Chicago Seven, the Communist Party USA, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Students for a Democratic Society, and Women’s Strike for Peace.
CCR also states that it is “dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” Journalist Matthew Vadum points out the contradiction inherent in that principle:
“[I]t is far from clear how a group can advance and protect both the U.S. Constitution and the purported rights contained in the Declaration. The Constitution, fundamental law of the U.S., protects the rights of individuals, but the Declaration, which is not part of U.S. or international law, is a utopian socialist goodie bag that ... claims to guarantee some rights mentioned in the Constitution, but also purports to protect other so-called rights, including the individual’s right to 'social security,' 'periodic holidays with pay,' 'rest and leisure,' 'a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family,' and 'just and favorable conditions of work and protection against unemployment.' U.N. enthusiasts claim the Declaration is a powerful tool for strategically shaming governments that violate its provisions, but CCR views the document as a means of transforming America into a very different country.”
Matthew Vadum describes CCR's passionate anti-Americanism thusly: “CCR lawyers ... ritualistically denounce the U.S. for its supposed hegemony and imperialism, denying that America has a right to defend itself and regulate its borders. … [To them,] America is a land of breadlines, racism, and totalitarian tyranny.”
As a result of this worldview, CCR historically has tried to oppose and undermine American interests wherever possible. The Capital Research Center has chronicled a number of the more significant anti-American crusades that CCR has waged over the years. For example:
Effort to Discredit America During the Iraq War
In an effort to undermine the American war effort in Iraq, and to embarrass the United States in the eyes of the world, CCR in December 2004 filed a criminal complaint in a German court to have ten high-ranking American military and political leaders put on trial in Germany for crimes against humanity and human-rights violations committed at Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison. The Center filed the 170-page comprehensive complaint with the German Federal Prosecutor’s office in Karlsruhe. Included as defendants in the complaint were Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, former CIA Director George Tenet, Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, and Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen Cambone. The plaintiffs were four Iraqis who allegedly had been subjected to torture and maltreatment at the hands of American soldiers at Abu Ghraib. When CCR announced its criminal complaint, the Center's president, Michael Ratner, said at a news conference in Berlin that American military and political leaders from Donald Rumsfeld on down had to be investigated and held accountable.
CCR chose Germany as the venue for its complaint because that country's law code contains a statute that allows German courts to try the accused perpetrators of crimes against humanity and human-rights violations regardless of where in the world the alleged offenses were committed.
A second reason why CCR elected to file its complaint in Germany was because three of the American military personnel named as defendants—Lt. General Ricardo Sanchez, Major General Walter Wodjakoski, and Colonel Thomas Pappas—were stationed there at that time. CCR understood that any investigation of the U.S. Army in Germany would hurt the military’s position there. In short, the goal was to strengthen the already-rampant anti-Americanism in Western Europe and keep alive the Left’s portrayal of the Abu Ghraib scandal as a modern My Lai massacre.
CCR and Post-9/11 Terrorism
Since 9/11, CCR has strived to limit America's ability to lead the war against Islamic terrorists. As author Marc Thiessen notes, the Center’s efforts “have tied America’s hands in a web of lawsuits that have restricted the ability of the U.S. military and intelligence communities to effectively prosecute the war on terror.”
In the weeks and months immediately after the 9/11 attacks, CCR focused heavily on the following major concerns:
Detention of Aliens:
In April 2002, CCR filed a class action lawsuit in Turkmen v. Ashcroft, seeking punitive damages on behalf of illegal aliens and non-citizens who had been picked up for questioning by U.S. authorities in the immediate post-9/11 period. The suit alleged that the INS had arrested these plaintiffs—all of whom were men from Arab or South Asian countries—“on the pretext of minor immigration violations and secretly detained them for the weeks and months the FBI took to clear them of terrorism, in violation of the U.S. Constitution and international human rights law.” A senior litigation attorney with CCR stated that the policy of detaining suspected terrorists for longer time periods than ordinary criminals “sacrific[es] our political freedoms in the name of national security.” The Turkmen case won CCR much publicity and, consequently, assistance from other law firms that had previously been fearful of taking cases involving 9/11 suspects.
The USA PATRIOT Act
Enacted in October 2001 by a huge majority in the House of Representatives (356-66), and almost unanimously in the Senate (98-1), the USA PATRIOT Act became the keystone of the American government’s legal response to Islamic terrorism. But according to CCR, the new law conferred “vast and unchecked powers to the executive branch”; authorized the “suspension of civil liberties” and the “silencing of political dissent”; represented “the death knell [of] privacy”; and advocated “stripping immigrants of constitutional protections.”
CCR argued in court that the PATRIOT Act provision outlawing “material support” for terrorism was unconstitutional and “imposes guilt by association.” Thus did the Center feel justified in rallying to the defense of Sami al-Arian, a former Florida professor who in 2005 was put on trial for raising funds for the Hamas sister group, Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
CCR also found fault with newly implemented PATRIOT Act provisions that allowed the FBI, CIA, and INS to share vital information with one another in order to derail terrorist plots. Such procedures, CCR warned, constituted an assault on “our privacy.”
Further, CCR complained that because of the PATRIOT Act, entry into the U.S. could now be barred to those who had previously used their “position of prominence within any country to endorse or espouse terrorist activity.”
CCR was a signatory to a March 17, 2003 letter exhorting members of the U.S. Congress to oppose the Domestic Security Enhancement Act, also known as “PATRIOT Act II,” which was then under consideration. The letter asserted that the new legislation "fail[ed] to respect our time-honored liberties," and "contain[ed] a multitude of new and sweeping law enforcement and intelligence gathering powers … that would severely dilute, if not undermine, many basic constitutional rights."
In addition, CCR supported the California-based Coalition for Civil Liberties, which tried to influence city councils to pass resolutions creating "Civil Liberties Safe Zones"; that is, to be non-compliant with the provisions of the PATRIOT Act.
Presidential Wartime Authority vs. The Rights of Captured Terrorists
Additional Terrorists Defended by CCR
Other CCR Actions in the Post-9/11 Period
CCR Blames the U.S. for Provoking Terrorism; Says 9/11 Should Be Treated As a Criminal Matter Rather Than a Military Matter
CCR’s views on the political and psychological roots of anti-American terrorism were summarized in March 2002 by the organization’s president, Michael Ratner, who said: “If the U.S. government truly wants its people to be safer and wants terrorist threats to diminish, it must make fundamental changes in its foreign policies ... particularly its unqualified support for Israel, and its embargo of Iraq, its bombing of Afghanistan, and its actions in Saudi Arabia. [These] continue to anger people throughout the region, and to fertilize the ground where terrorists of the future will take root.”
In denouncing America's “intensive bombing campaign” in Afghanistan, Ratner lamented that thousands of refugees were being forced to flee, and he cited a United Nations prediction that some 100,000 Afghani children would die as a result of U.S. “aggression.” Ratner also suggested that as an alternative to waging a retaliatory war—which was allegedly spawning “hate for Americans” among Middle Eastern Muslims—the U.S. ought to “treat the attacks on September 11 as a crime against humanity, establish a UN tribunal, extradite the suspects, or if that fails, capture them with a UN force, and try them.”
Ties to Lynne Stewart, Terrorism Abetter
Of all the radical attorneys who aligned themselves with CCR in the aftermath of 9/11, one of the most noteworthy was Lynne Stewart, who in 1995 had provided legal represention for Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, sentenced to life-in-prison for his role in masterminding a number of Islamic terror plots. In April 2002 Stewart was indicted on charges that, while representing Rahman, she had illegally “facilitated and concealed communications” between the Sheik and members of the Islamic Group, an Egypt-based terrorist organization that he headed. Specifically, when Stewart had visited her client in prison, she knowingly permitted him to give an Arabic translator messages that Rahman wanted transmitted to the Islamic Group—in essence enabling the Sheik to direct terrorist activities from his cell.
But after Stewart was arrested, CCR issued a press release describing the case against her “as an attack on attorneys who defend controversial figures and an attempt to deprive these clients of the zealous representation that may be required.” In 2002, CCR legal director William Goodman stated that the Center “does indeed support the defense of Lynne Stewart,” adding that the prosecution of Stewart was part of “a strategy designed to weaken the Bill of Rights and to frighten lawyers who might represent unpopular and even distasteful clients.”
CCR paid tribute to Stewart at its annual convention in 2004. And in July 2006, CCR president Michael Ratner depicted the government’s case against Stewart as "a legal and political outrage" that was sending "a message of fear into the heart of every lawyer who tries to defend their client."
Criminal Complaints Against High-Ranking U.S. Officials
In November 2006, CCR filed a criminal complaint requesting “an investigation and, ultimately, a criminal prosecution that will look into the responsibility of high-ranking U.S. officials for authorizing war crimes in the context of the so-called ‘War on Terror.’” The defendants in the case included former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, former CIA Director George Tenet, and former Chief White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales. The complaint was brought on behalf of 12 Iraqi citizens who were held at Abu Ghraib prison and one Guantánamo detainee. According to CCR, all of these detainees had been tortured by American authorities.
Supporting the Holy Land Foundation
In December 2006, CCR and the Humanitarian Law Project (HLP) jointly petitioned a federal judge to dismiss many of the charges brought against the Hamas-linked organization Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF), which in 2001 had been shut down by the U.S. government because of its terrorist ties. Defense attorneys argued that Executive Order 13224, the statute under which HLF originally had been named as a financier of terrorism, was overly broad.
CCR has filed a number of legal actions against high-ranking Israeli defendants. For example:
CCR also expressed its anti-Israel orientation in a 2005 lawsuit against the Illinois-based heavy-machinery manufacturer Caterpillar, Inc., after Rachel Corrie, a 23-year-old International Solidarity Movement volunteer trying to disrupt the actions of an Israeli anti-terrorism mission in Gaza, was accidentally crushed to death by a Caterpillar D9 bulldozer belonging to the Israeli military. According to CCR, Caterpillar had violated international, federal, and state law by selling such machines to the Israeli military, knowing they would be used to demolish (terrorists') homes and endanger civilians in Palestinian villages. After a federal judge dismissed the suit in 2005, CCR filed an appeal.
Similarly, the Center also sued the private contractors CACI International (Virginia) and Titan International (California) for their alleged connection to the 2004 prisoner-abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib.
In the summer of 2014, when Israel was engaged in a military operation designed to prevent Gaza-based Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists from continuing to launch enormous numbers of deadly missiles into the Jewish state, CCR "condemn[ed] in the strongest terms the Israeli government’s indiscriminate killing and collective punishment of civilians in the Gaza Strip." The Center also demanded that Israel "end the inhumane and unlawful seven-year closure of Gaza"—a reference to the so-called Israeli "blockade" of Gaza's port. CCR made no mention of the fact that the blockade: (a) had been put in place to prevent Hamas, the ruling party of Gaza, from importing weaponry that could be used to harm Israel; and (b) would be lifted if only Hamas would renounce violence against Israel, recognize Israel's right to exist, and honor all previous agreeements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
In November 2009, two months after Congress had voted to cut off federal funding for the notoriously corrupt community organization ACORN, CCR lawyers filed suit on that group's behalf. According to CCR, the funding ban constituted a “bill of attainder”—i.e., a legislative act declaring a person or group guilty of a crime without trial.
Key CCR Personnel
CCR's Allies and Funders
A member organization of the Abolition 2000 and United For Peace and Justice anti-war coalitions, CCR is supported by donations from many charitable foundations, including the Arca Foundation, the Careth Foundation, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, the Compton Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Funding Exchange, the Harold K. Hochschild Foundation, the JEHT Foundation, the Liberty Hill Foundation, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the New-Land Foundation, the New World Foundation, George Soros's Open Society Institute, the Public Welfare Foundation, the Samuel Rubin Foundation, the Scherman Foundation, the Stewart R. Mott Charitable Trust, the Surdna Foundation, the Tides Foundation, and the Vanguard Public Foundation. For a list of additional funders of CCR, click here.
Noteworthy organizations that likewise have contributed substantial sums of money to CCR include the Council on American-Islamic Relations (Ohio chapter), the International Institute of Islamic Thought, the Safa Trust Inc., and the Trans Arab Research Institute (which in 2004 expressed its “deepest sorrow” upon hearing of the death of Palestinian terrorist mastermind Yasser Arafat).
In addition, CCR has received large donations from high-profile individuals like actor Ossie Davis, actress Ruby Dee, billionaire financier Peter Lewis, film director Sidney Lumet, singer Natalie Merchant, actor-director Tim Robbins, actress Susan Sarandon, and singer Pete Seeger. The Center also received money in 2002 from the estate of Isabel Johnson Hiss, the second wife of the Soviet spy and dedicated communist Alger Hiss.
CCR identifies itself as an ally of such organizations as the (now defunct) community organization ACORN, the Alliance For Justice, Friends of the Earth, and the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement.
 Peter Collier and David Horowitz, Destructive Generation: Second Thoughts about the Sixties (San Francisco: Encounter Books, 2005), p. 218.
 Marc Thiessen, Courting Disaster: How the CIA Kept America Safe and How Barack Obama Is Inviting the Next Attack. (Regnery Publishing, 2010). Cited in David Horowitz and Jacob Laksin, The New Leviathan (Crown Forum, 2012).
 David Horowitz and Jacob Laksin, The New Leviathan (Crown Forum, 2012).