American activist, ex-justice official, Saddam Hussein lawyer, Ramsey Clark dies at 93

American activist, ex-justice official, Saddam Hussein lawyer, Ramsey Clark dies at 93
3 min read
Ramsey Clark, described as a defender of 'Palestinian and human rights' and an opponent of US wars with Iraq, died aged 93 on Saturday.
Clark was an opponent of the war on Iraq [Getty]
Ramsey Clark, who promoted civil rights as America's top law enforcement official in the 1960s but later helped defend Saddam Hussein and Slobodan Milosevic in court, has died at 93.

The often controversial liberal figure and former attorney general died April 9 at his home in New York City, a niece, Sharon Welch, told US media. No cause of death was given.

His political arc was extraordinary. While serving under president Lyndon Johnson, Clark's Justice Department prosecuted popular author and paediatrician Benjamin Spock for helping Vietnam War protesters evade the draft.

But he also filed the first school desegregation and voting rights suits in the US North. 

Within years of leaving government in 1969, he had become a stunningly direct critic of US foreign policy, which he called "genocidal," and of military spending, which he termed "certifiably insane."

Defender of the Unpopular

He became a defender of unpopular figures and causes, including Saddam Hussein, Slobodan Milosevic, the ex-Yugoslav president accused of war crimes, and Mumia Abu-Jamal, a former Black Panther jailed in Pennsylvania for killing a policeman.

Everyone, however unpopular, deserved a proper defence, he insisted.

Clark's death was mourned on Saturday by figures ranging from Palestinian activist Hanan Ashrawi, who tweeted that he was "an indefatigable defender of Palestinian & human rights," to Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel, who said Clark had "denounced the great injustices committed by his country worldwide."

Despite Clark's criticism of US policies, president Jimmy Carter turned to him to attempt to negotiate the release of the 53 American hostages held in Tehran in 1979. 

Though his effort failed, Clark later returned to Iran on his own and said the continuing hostage taking was "understandable". He urged the US to apologise to Iran for misdeeds, drawing a warning from a furious Carter that he could be prosecuted for violating a travel ban.

Clark met with Communist officials in Hanoi during the Vietnam War and blasted US conduct there. He sued the US government for bombing Libya after a 1986 terror attack in Berlin, and he opposed the US wars with Iraq.

Landmark rights law

In 1990, then head of Amnesty USA John Healey called Clark "one of the most respected advocates for human rights 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 poor black people seriously."

Born in Dallas in 1927, Clark joined the Marine Corps in 1945 and served as a courier in Europe, where he witnessed the devastation wrought by the war.

Returning to the US, he earned a law degree from the University of Chicago. His father had been a Supreme Court justice who resigned to avoid an appearance of conflict of interest.

In 1961, Ramsey Clark went to work for Robert Kennedy's Justice Department, gaining a reputation as an efficient administrator, and in 1967 was named by Johnson, a fellow Texan, to head the department.

He was involved in drafting the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1968; he also ordered an end to federal executions.

Clark later ran twice for the US Senate from New York.

Read also: Iraqi youth see little hope 18 years after Saddam's fall

"Thank God I didn't win," he later said. "Frankly, I would have been bored."

Agencies contributed to this report.

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