Ramsey Clark, who stood up for America’s best civil rights law enforcement officer in the 1960s and later defended Saddam Hussein and Slobodan Milosevic in court, has died at the age of 93.
The liberal figure and former attorney general died in his New York City home on April 9, a niece, Sharon Welch, told US media. No cause of death was given.
His political arc was exceptional. During his service under President Lyndon Johnson, the Clark Department of Justice prosecuted noted author and pediatrician Benjamin Spock for helping protesters from the Vietnam War evade the draft.
But he also filed the first lawsuits for desegregation and voting rights in the northern US states.
Within years of retiring from government in 1969, he was an amazingly direct critic of US foreign policy, which he labeled “genocide,” and military spending, which he labeled “demonstrably insane.”
Defender of the Unpopular
He became a defender of unpopular personalities and causes, including Saddam Hussein, Slobodan Milosevic, the ex-Yugoslav president charged with war crimes, and Mumia Abu-Jamal, a former Black Panther jailed in Pennsylvania for the murder of a police officer.
Everyone, however unpopular, deserves proper defense, he insisted.
Clark was mourned on Saturday by figures ranging from Palestinian activist Hanan Ashrawi, who tweeted that he was “a tireless defender of Palestinian and human rights,” to Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel, who said Clark had “his country’s great injustices denounced “worldwide.”
Despite Clark’s criticism of US politics, President Jimmy Carter turned to him to try to negotiate the release of the 53 American hostages held in Tehran in 1979.
Although his efforts failed, Clark later returned to Iran alone, saying the continued hostage-taking was “understandable”. He called on the US to apologize to Iran for wrongdoing and warned an angry Carter that he could be prosecuted for violating a travel ban.
Clark met with communist officials in Hanoi during the Vietnam War and blew up US behavior there. He sued the US government for bombing Libya after a terrorist attack in Berlin in 1986 and rejected the US wars with Iraq.
Landmark Rights Law
In 1990, then Amnesty USA director John Healey described Clark as “one of the most respected human rights advocates in the world today”.
The late civil rights leader Roy Wilkins once called Clark “the first powerful white man I had ever seen who took the poor black man seriously.”
Clark was born in Dallas in 1927, joined the Marine Corps in 1945 and served as a courier in Europe, where he witnessed the devastation caused by the war.
After returning to the United States, he earned a law degree from the University of Chicago. His father had been a Supreme Court judge who stepped down to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.
In 1961, Ramsey Clark worked for the Robert Kennedy Justice Department and gained a reputation as an efficient administrator. In 1967 he was named head of the ministry by Johnson, a Texan.
He was involved in drafting the landmark 1968 Civil Rights Act. He also ordered an end to federal executions.
Clark later ran twice for the US Senate from New York.
“Thank goodness I didn’t win,” he said later. “To be honest, I would have been bored.”