Ramsey Clark’s unique contribution to human rights

Ramsey Clark

Ramsey Clark

As assistant attorney general for the Lands Division, Ramsey Clark played a key role in drafting the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

In 1967, Clark was promoted to attorney general, becoming the first to seek the abolition of capital punishment while still in office. He ordered a moratorium on federal executions.

In 1968, Clark declined yet another request by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to wiretap Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Two days later, King was assassinated. In the uprisings that ensued, Clark threatened to prosecute Chicago’s Mayor Richard Daley if the mayor’s announced “shoot to kill” order was used.

Clark facilitated a permit for an encampment of 3,000 people on the Washington, D.C., Mall to protest poverty. The project was organized by Dr. King’s Poor People’s Campaign and carried out in the aftermath of his assassination.

Later that year, Clark opposed preventive detention in the lead-up to the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. He called the indictment of Black Panther leader Bobby Seale, as part of the conspiracy Chicago 8 trial, a “scandal.”

He and Roy Wilkins investigated the police attack that killed Fred Hampton, the deputy chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party.

While he was attorney general, many people urged Clark to resign in protest of the Vietnam War. But, Clark says, “I believed in all the causes in which I was involved, that [resigning] would have let a lot of people down.”

In 1972, several years after he left office, Clark traveled to the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. Before going, he told the audience at a NAACP convention that “Martin Luther King told me once that the Vietnam War was a civil rights issue. I couldn’t accept it then, but now I know he was right.”

As a civilian lawyer, Clark represented the Alaskan Indigenous population in its land claims against the federal government. He taught a Howard University course called “Law as an Effective Instrument of Social Change.”

The federal government threatened to prosecute Clark after he traveled to Iran in 1980 during the hostage crisis. He had also been in Iran during the lead-up to the revolution that overthrew the brutal Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi regime.

On April 16, 1986, warplanes took off from Lakenheath AFB, England, and attacked Tripoli while U.S. aircraft carriers shelled Benghazi, Libya. Clark filed lawsuits against the U.S. and British governments. He also opposed the recent U.S.-aided overthrow of the Libyan government.

Clark has traveled to Cuba and called for an end to the U.S.’s brutal economic blockade. He has led delegations to Cuba that brought medications that were in short supply there. He has called for freeing the Cuban Five, a group of men who came to the U.S. to stop counterrevolutionary Cuban exiles from provocations against the island nation.

Clark was part of the call for solidarity with Cuba that resulted in a historic rally organized by the International Action Center in 1992. More than 5,000 people attended the New York City event.

U.S. out of the Middle East

In 1990, Clark helped form the National Coalition to Stop U.S. Intervention in the Middle East. He traveled to Iraq in a delegation with boxer Muhammad Ali and others, then returned to Iraq in February 1991, while the U.S. was conducting 3,000 bombing sorties a day against that country.

In 1992, Clark convened the Commission of Inquiry for an International War Crimes Tribunal. The resulting report called for the formation of an organization to organize against U.S. interventions. That led to the founding of the International Action Center in 1992. In subsequent years, Clark led three large delegations to bring much-needed medicine to Iraq.

Clark has led the international IAC campaign to ban U.S. use of depleted uranium, a radioactive toxic weapon that has been implicated in Gulf War Syndrome and an increase in cancers in Iraq. Depleted uranium is also an issue in Vieques, Puerto Rico, where such weapons were extensively tested.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Clark led demonstrations to stop the buildup to war against Afghanistan. He was instrumental in leading the massive protests organized by the ANSWER Coalition, which the IAC was a founding member of, against the ongoing “war on terror.”

For 30 years, Clark was the attorney in the U.S. for the Palestine Liberation Organization. In 2011 he led a solidarity delegation to Gaza.

Solidarity missions

Time and again, Clark has jumped on a plane to show solidarity with people who have been targeted by the Pentagon, whether in Grenada, Yugoslavia or Syria. He has led IAC fact-finding delegations to Colombia; to Chiapas, Mexico, to meet with the Zapatistas; twice to Yugoslavia during the U.S./NATO bombings; and to Sudan after the U.S. bombing of a pharmaceutical plant there.

During the Ronald Reagan/CIA war against the Sandinista government, Clark led a delegation to Nicaragua. Clark and Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, the Nicaraguan foreign minister from 1979 to 1990, became colleagues in the struggle to stop the anti-communist Contras, a U.S.-financed proxy army, and their death squads.

Clark supported the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) in El Salvador’s struggle for independence from a Washington-backed military junta. He has traveled to Venezuela and met with President Hugo Chávez, and made visits to Bolivia and Ecuador.

Clark has supported the reunification of Korea and has been involved with the defense of Jose Maria Sison, a leader-in-exile of the Philippine struggle. Recently, Clark testified at three trials against U.S. drone wars near the bases in the U.S. from which drone missions are operated.

In 2008, Clark received the United Nations Prize in the Field of Human Rights.

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