Ten years ago, I watched as two planes flew into the World Trade Center. New Yorkers were terrified, shocked and saddened as our city became a pungent morgue. When the Bush administration began to talk of war, CCR argued that these attacks should be treated as crimes and suspects tried in regular courts.
Unfortunately, war was the response. Congress gave the President the authority to make war against almost any nation, group or individual anywhere in the world. We waged war in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia including through targeted assassinations and drones. These wars have now killed thousands of Americans and perhaps hundreds of thousands of others.
This war paradigm and its misuse led to Guantánamo, secret “ghost” detention sites, indefinite detention, military commissions, rendition, and the suspension of habeas corpus. It was also used to justify a dramatic curtailing of domestic civil rights: illegal wiretapping, increased repression of dissent, and a culture of government secrecy.
In 2002, CCR made the courageous decision to represent the first detainees and in the years following, was able to get hundreds of lawyers to Guantánamo. Lawyer visits helped to break the silence of incommunicado detention that fostered torture and forced an examination of who was there—not the worst of the worst, but hundreds picked up without cause. Six hundred men were freed.
Today, 171 men remain at Guantánamo despite Obama’s promise to close it. The underlying policies that surround Guantánamo have in general been adopted by President Obama. Practices claimed as emergency exceptions after 9/11 are now a permanent part of our legal landscape.
Ten years after 9/11 we can say with certainty that CCR has made a real difference—taking on the most challenging issues of the day and lessening some of the government’s draconian practices.
Despite increasing repression here at home, U.S. wars around the world, Guantánamo, and the impoverishment of billions, we see great hope as millions take to the streets in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria and here at home in Wisconsin. None of us can predict the outcome of this new activism, but we remain firmly on the side of the oppressed.
After almost ten years as President of CCR, I am relinquishing that job, but not my deep involvement with the organization that has been my legal and political home for 40 years. A wonderful new President is stepping forward: Jules Lobel. Jules is a long-time board member, VicePresident, professor at University of Pittsburgh Law School and a major CCR litigator. He won an important Supreme Court challenge to solitary confinement practices at an Ohio “supermax” prison, litigated many of the 1980’s Central America war cases with CCR and came close to stopping the 1991 invasion of Iraq—with a lawsuit no less. I am thrilled to have my longtime friend and smart, radical colleague as CCR’s new President.