Ramsey Clark from Attorney General to the IAC
by Kevin Coogan
On September 29th, 2001, just a few weeks following the September 11th terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, a large peace rally was held in Washington, D.C., to oppose an American military response to the attack.
The main organizer of the D.C. rally, ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War & End Racism), was officially established shortly after the 9/11 attack. The leading force behind ANSWER’s creation is the International Action Center (IAC), which represents itself as a progressive organization devoted to peace, justice, and human rights issues.
The IAC’s organizational clout is considerable: for the past decade it has played a leading role in organizing protest demonstrations against U.S. military actions against both Iraq and Serbia. After the September 11th attack, the IAC decided to turn its long-organized planned protest against the International Monetary Fund and World Bank gathering, scheduled for the 29th, into an action opposing any use of U.S. military power in response to terrorism.
The IAC owes its current success to Ramsey Clark, a former Attorney General during the Johnson Administration, who is listed on the IAC’s website as its founder. Clark’s establishment credentials have caused many in the mass media to accept the IAC’s self-portrayal as a group of disinterested humanitarians appalled by war and poverty who are working to turn American foreign policy towards a more humane course. On its website the IAC says it was “Founded by Ramsey Clark” and then describes its purpose: “Information, Activism, and Resistance to U.S. Militarism, War, and Corporate Greed, Linking with Struggles Against Racism and Oppression within the United States.”
Yet since its inception in 1992, the IAC’s actions have given rise to serious doubts about its bona fides as an organization truly committed to peace and human rights issues.
Behind the blue door entrance to the IAC’s headquarters on 14th Street in Manhattan can be found deeper shades of red. When one looks closely at the IAC, it becomes impossible to ignore the overwhelming presence of members of an avowedly Marxist-Leninist sect called the Workers World Party (WWP), whose cadre staff virtually all of the IAC’s top positions. Whether or not the IAC is simply a WWP front group remains difficult to say.
Nor is there any evidence that Ramsey Clark himself is a WWP member. What does seem undeniable is that without the presence of scores of WWP cadre working inside the IAC, the organization would for all practical purposes cease to exist. Therefore, even if Clark is not a WWP member, he is following a political course that meets with the complete approval of one of the most pro-Stalinist sects ever to emerge from the American far left.
Part One: Ramsey Clark from Attorney General to the IAC
Before analyzing the role of the WWP in both the creation and control of the IAC, it is first necessary to explain just how the IAC managed to link up with Clark, a 74-year old Texas-born lawyer and the IAC’s one big name media star.
The son of Supreme Court Justice Tom Clark (himself a Attorney General in the Johnson administration), Ramsey Clark radiates “middle America” with his puppy dog eyes, short hair, jug ears, Texas twang, plain talk, and “aw, shucks” demeanor. Clark backs up his folksy public persona with some dazzling credentials that include serving as the National Chairman of the National Advisory Committee of the ACLU, as well as serving as past president of the Federal Bar Association.
Despite his prominence within the establishment, Clark also maintains close ties to the Left. After he ceased being LBJ’s Attorney General in 1969 when Nixon became President, Clark visited North Vietnam and condemned U.S. bombing policy over the “Voice of Vietnam” radio station. He also served as a lawyer for peace activist Father Phillip Berrigan, and led a committee that investigated the killing of Chicago Black Panther leader Fred Hampton by local police in collusion with the FBI.
At the same time, Clark remained politically active inside the more moderate ranks of the Democratic Party. In 1976, however, his defeat in the New York Democratic primary campaign for Senate ended his political ambitions. From the mid-1970s until today, the Greenwich Village-based Clark has pursued a career as a high-powered defense attorney who specializes in political cases.
Some of Clark’s current clients, including Shaykh Umar ‘Abd al-Rahman, the “blind Sheik” who was convicted and sentenced to a lengthy prison term for his involvement in helping to organize follow-up terrorist attacks in New York City after the first World Trade Center attack in 1993, are a far cry from Father Berrigan. Shaykh ‘Abd al-Rahman, of course, deserves legal representation. What makes Clark’s approach noteworthy is that in the case of ‘Abd al-Rahman (as well as those of Clark’s other political clients), his approach is based more on putting the government on trial for its alleged misdeeds than actually proving the innocence of his clients.
While completely ignoring Shaykh ‘Abd al-Rahman’s pivotal role in the Egyptian-based Islamist terror group al-Jama‘a al-Islamiyyah, as well as the central role that the Shaykh’s Jersey City-based mosque played in the first World Trade Center attack, Clark tried to portray the blind Shaykh as a brilliant Islamic scholar and religious thinker who was being persecuted simply as a result of anti-Muslim prejudice on the part of the American government.
Clark appears to be driven by intense rage at what he perceives to be the failures of American foreign policy; a rage so strong that it may well be irrelevant to him whether his clients are actually innocent or guilty as long as he can use them to strike back at the American establishment which once welcomed him with open arms. After losing his 1976 Senate bid, Clark deepened his opposition to American foreign policy. In June 1980, at a time when American hostages were in their eighth month of captivity in Iran, Clark sojourned to Tehran to take part in a conference on the “Crimes of America” sponsored by Ayatollah Khomeini’s theocratic Islamic regime.
According to a story on Clark by John Judis that appeared in the April 22nd, 1991 New Republic, while in Iran Clark publicly characterized the Carter Administration?s failed military attempt to rescue the hostages as a violation of international law. By the time Clark was sipping tea in Tehran, American foreign policy was in shambles. In both Nicaragua and Iran, U.S.-backed dictators had fallen from power. In Europe, the incoming Reagan Administration would soon be faced with a growing neutralist movement that was particularly strong in Germany. Inside the U.S., the anti-nuclear “freeze” movement was then in full swing. Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, the Soviet Union had deployed massive amounts of troops into a formerly neutral nation for the first time since the end of World War II.
By the mid-1980s, however, the combination of Reagan in America and Margaret Thatcher in England had brought the Left to a screeching halt. Huge sums of covert CIA aid allowed the mujahidin to turn Afghanistan into a cemetery for Russian soldiers, while in Central America the U.S. managed first to destabilize and then to bring down Cuban-allied states like Nicaragua and Grenada. In the Middle East, the U.S. (with help from Israel) successfully encouraged both Iraq and Iran to fight a long bloody war against each other, a war triggered by Saddam Husayn’s attempted invasion of Iran. In 1986 American planes even bombed Libya to punish Colonel Qadhdhafi for backing terrorist groups in the West.
As U.S. power began to reassert itself globally, Clark became even more extreme in his opposition to American foreign policy. He first astonished many on the Left when he agreed to defend f
ormer Grenada Defense Minister Bernard Coard, leader of the ultra-leftist clique responsible for the assassination of Maurice Bishop. (It was Bishop’s 1983 murder that had supplied the pretext for the U.S. invasion of Grenada.)
After the U.S. attack on Libya, Clark journeyed to Tripoli to offer his condolences to Colonel Qadhdhafi. That same year he defended Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) leaders from a legal suit brought by the family of Leon Klinghoffer, an elderly retired man in a wheel chair who was murdered by Palestinian terrorists on the Italian cruise ship “Achille Lauro” simply because he was Jewish. Clark even became the lawyer for Nazi collaborator Karl Linnas, who was unsuccessfully fighting deportation to his native Estonia to face war crimes charges.
Clark’s next legal client was equally surprising. In 1989 he became Lyndon Larouche?s lead attorney in Larouche?s attempt to appeal his conviction on federal mail fraud charges. Larouche, who began his political career in the late 1940s as a member of the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party (SWP), had by the late 1970s embraced the far right, anti-Semitism, and Holocaust denial.
Clark claimed that the government was persecuting Larouche solely to suppress his political organizing, and even went so far as to express “amazement” at the personal “vilification” directed at his client! A report from the left-wing watchdog group Political Research Associates suggests that Clark’s fondness for Larouche may have been rooted in Larouche’s aggressive support for Panamanian dictator General Manuel Noriega, who had been forcibly removed from power by the Bush Administration. Both Larouche and Clark participated in the movement opposed to American military intervention in Panama. Clark even visited Panama in January 1990 as part of an “Independent Commission of Inquiry” to examine American “war crimes.” (Not surprisingly, the Commission found America “guilty.”)
Clark’s willingness to defend political clients so long as he felt he could use their cases to put the American government on trial meant that he was less interested in proving that his clients were saints than in proving that members of his own government were sinners. Clark’s logic now began to extend beyond his choice of legal clients to encompass groups that he was willing to collaborate with who he felt might help advance his political agenda. By 1990, Clark decided he was even willing to ally himself closely with an ultra-left Marxist-Leninist sect called the Workers World Party (WWP).
Clark’s ties to the WWP first became apparent during the 1990–1991 foreign policy crisis in the Middle East that began unfolding after Iraqi dictator Saddam Husayn invaded Kuwait in an attempt to dominate the Middle East?s oil supplies. During the Winter 1990–91 Mideast crisis, two separate “anti-war” coalitions arose to protest the first Bush Administration’s policies.
Before the military attack on Iraq took place in January 1991, the Bush Administration (with support both from Congress and many other nations) imposed an economic embargo on Husayn in an attempt to pressure him to voluntarily withdraw his forces from Iraq and avoid a full-scale war. The embargo policy was strongly endorsed by Democrats in Washington. Although the Russians had long maintained strong ties to Iraq, even Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev tried to persuade Husayn to withdraw his forces or face military defeat.
The Bush Administration made it clear to Husayn that he was on a tight deadline, and that any failure to meet that deadline and withdraw his forces would result in war. The first anti-war coalition, the National Campaign for Peace in the Middle East, strongly opposed the idea of a deadline and advocated the extension of the sanctions policy against Iraq as an alternative to military action.
The National Campaign also made it clear that no matter how much it was opposed to a war against Iraq, it also considered Husayn?s invasion of Kuwait to be an undeniable act of aggression. The National Campaign’s stance on the Gulf War was challenged by a rival organization, the National Coalition to Stop U.S. Intervention in the Middle East. The National Coalition bitterly opposed the National Campaign’s support for the extension of sanctions.
The Coalition argued that Iraq itself was the victim of “U.S. Oil Imperialism,” which was working in cahoots with reactionary states like Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the ruling class of Kuwait itself. The Coalition demanded, instead, that the Left uncritically defend “the Iraqi people” against both continued economic sanctions and direct American military intervention. The divisions inside the Left over this issue became so deep that both groups were forced to hold rival rallies in Washington in January 1991.
The hard Left National Coalition came out of a long-standing Workers World Party front organization known as the People’s Anti-War Mobilization (PAM), which quickly reorganized itself into the National Coalition. The WWP’s prominent role in the National Coalition was made evident by the group’s choice of a leader, a WWP member named Monica Moorhead (the WWP’s candidate for President in the 2000 elections).
The Coalition’s office was adjacent to Clark’s Manhattan law office, where another WWP cadre member named Gavriella Gemma (Coalition Coordinator) worked as a legal secretary. The National Coalition (most likely through Gemma) extended an invitation to Clark to serve as its official spokesman. To the astonishment of many, he accepted.
Yet Clark and the WWP, at least publicly, had so little in common that as late as 1989 the WWP?s official mouthpiece, Workers World (WW), never even mentioned Clark in a favorable light.
Clark’s decision paved the way for his subsequent involvement in the WWP-allied International Action Center.
After the Gulf War ended, Clark established an “International War Crimes Tribunal” to denounce U.S. actions against Iraq. When the Tribunal held its first hearings in New York on May 11th, 1991, the speakers included WWP members Teresa Gutierrez (“co-coordinator” of yet another WWP front, the International Peace for Cuba Appeal), Moorhead, and WWP stalwart Sarah Flounders. One year later, on July 6th, 1992, Workers World announced the creation of a “center for international solidarity” (the IAC) with Clark as its spokesman.
Clark told WW that “the international center can become a people’s United Nations based on grass-roots activism and the principles of peace, equality and justice.” With Clark as spokesman and Sarah Flounders as a coordinator, the IAC sheltered a myriad of WWP front groups and allied organizations, including the National Coalition to Stop U.S. Intervention in the Middle East, the Haiti Commission, the Campaign to Stop Settlements in Occupied Palestine, the Commission of Inquiry on the US Invasion of Panama, the Movement for a Peoples Assembly, and the International War Crimes Tribunal.
From 1991 until today, the IAC/WWP has led repeated delegations to Iraq with Clark at their head to meet with Saddam Husayn and other top Iraqi officials. The close ties between the IAC and Husayn have led other critics of U.S. foreign policy toward Iraq, such as former UN inspector Scott Ritter (who, like the IAC, opposes the continuation of sanctions as being far more harmful to the Iraqi people than to Husayn), to distance himself from any association with the IAC. Ironically enough, a few years before the Gulf War broke out, the WWP had no qualms about labeling Saddam Husayn as a genocidal war criminal.
In a September 22nd, 1988 WW article entitled “Iraq launches genocidal attack on Kurdish people,” WWP cadre (and current IAC honcho) Brian Becker denounced Iraq’s “horrific chemical weapons attacks on Kurdish villages,” citing “ample evidence” from Kurdish sources and “independent observers” that “mustard gas, cyanide and other outlawed chemical weapons have been used in a massive fashion” not just against the Kurds but al
so against “thousands of rebelling Iraqi forces who deserted from the army in 1984 during the Iran-Iraq war, and took refuge in the marshland areas in southern Iraq.”
Becker then noted that the Iraqi attempt to crush the Kurds “by a combination of terror and systematic depopulation” has been “the hallmark of the government’s policy for the last several years.”
More recently both Clark and the IAC have played a leading role in uncritically defending former Serbian leader Slobodon Milosevic’s brutal attempts to dominate both Bosnia and Kosovo. (Clark even defended Radovan Karadzic, the notorious Bosnian Serb warlord allied with Milosevic, against a civil suit brought against him for the atrocities carried out by his forces.)
While accusing NATO of committing war crimes against Serbia, neither the IAC nor the WWP criticized Serbia’s notorious record of terror against civilians, one which includes both the infamous massacre at Srebrenica and the displacement of a million Muslim refuges from Kosovo. The Clark/IAC War Crimes Tribunal’s hatred of American policy, which comes coated in legal jargon, borders on the comic as well as the megalomaniacal.
One IAC “legal brief,” for example, accuses President Clinton, the U.S. Secretaries of State and Defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and “U.S. personnel directly involved in designating targets, flight crews and deck crews of the U.S. military bombers and assault aircraft, U.S. military personnel directly involved in targeting, preparing and launching missiles at Yugoslavia” with war crimes. Nor does the IAC indictment ignore the political and military leadership of England, Germany, and “every NATO country,” not to mention the governments of Turkey and Hungary.
It then charges NATO with “inflicting, inciting and enhancing violence between Muslims and Slavs,” using the media “to demonize Yugoslavia, Slavs, Serbs and Muslims as genocidal murderers,” and “attempting to destroy the Sovereignty, right to self determination, democracy and culture of the Slavic, Muslim, Christian and other people of Yugoslavia.” The Alice in Wonderland quality of the “war crimes indictment” is further highlighted by its demand for “the abolition of NATO”!
No matter how surreal the IAC’s actions sound, there can be little doubt that they are well-funded, since IAC/WWP cadres regularly fly to Europe and the Middle East to attend conferences and political meetings. Through a 501© 3 organization called the People’s Rights Fund, a wealthy Serbian-American who may even have business connections to Belgrade can freely donate to both the IAC and its related media propaganda arm, the Peoples Video Network. Nor are foreign diplomats terribly shy about being publicly associated with IAC events.
Iraq’s UN Ambassador, Dr. Sa‘id Hasan, for example, even spoke at the IAC’s “First Hearing of the Independent Commission of Inquiry to Investigate U.S./NATO War Crimes Against the People of Yugoslavia,” held in New York City on July 31st, 1999. One foreign official who will not be attending any IAC conferences in the near future, however, is former Yugoslav leader Slobodon Milosevic, who is currently on trial for war crimes in the Hague.