- Founding head of Human Rights First
- Was appointed Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy,
Human Rights and Labor in 2009
- “Apologized” to China for Arizona’s 2010 immigration law
- Views the United States as one of the world's foremost human-rights violators
See also: Human Rights First
in November 1950, Michael Posner grew up in Chicago, Illinois. He
earned a B.A. in history from the University
of Michigan in 1972 and a J.D. from UC
Berkeley three years later. In 1978 he collaborated
with Jerome Shestack and James Silkenat to establish
the Lawyer’s Committee on Human Rights, which was renamed
Rights First (HRF) in
Posner served as executive director of that organization from 1978-2006, and as its president from 2006-2009. He remains a
of the HRF board of directors to this day.
shape aspects of the Refugee Act of 1980, which became the
first U.S. law to provide for political asylum. Under his leadership,
HRF evolved into the
world's foremost provider of free legal representation for asylum
Law School from 1981-84 and has been a visiting
lecturer at Columbia
University Law School since 1984.
In 1991, Posner
drafted and campaigned for the Torture
Victim Protection Act (TVPA). Passed by Congress the following year, this
legislation gave individuals (regardless of their nationality) the ability to file suit in U.S. courts
against anyone who, acting
in an official capacity for any foreign country, had ever subjected
them to torture. It also permitted individuals to sue American agents
or military personnel who allegedly had inflicted torture upon them. The
U.S. Justice Department resisted TVPA because its definition of
torture was open to various interpretations, and because it had the potential to interfere with American foreign policy and U.S. relations with other countries.
In 1992 Posner
helped musician/activist Peter Gabriel establish Witness, an
organization that uses video and online technologies to "open the eyes of the world to human-rights violations."
1998 Posner led an HRF delegation to the Rome conference at which the statute of the International
Criminal Court was adopted.
In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Posner complained that President
Bush's war on terror was creating “a loss of liberties and a serious undermining of the
rule of law.” The Bush administration's effort "to concentrate
government powers with the executive branch," Posner added, was responsible for "a
dramatic loss of personal privacy, the reversal of the principle of
open government, and discriminatory policies toward immigrants and
refugees.” Condemning national-security measures like the PATRIOT Act, Posner asserted that the U.S.'s post-9/11
treatment of Middle Easterners was akin to the internment of Japanese
Americans during World War II.
Particularly appalling to Posner during the Bush
years was the government's practice of holding suspected terrorists such as al Qaeda
Padilla and Yaser
Hamdi in military detention indefinitely and without access to legal counsel. From the time of Padilla’s arrest in
2002, Posner and HRF were deeply engaged in the defendant's case and they filed
the first amicus brief on his behalf in July 2003. Poser argued
that such “so-called ‘enemy combatant’ cases demonstrate most
dramatically the change in the relationship between our government
and its people.”
called for the
closure of the of the Guantanamo Bay detention center and for an end to the practice of adjudicating terrorism cases in military tribunals.
In 2004, Posner and HRF
launched the End
campaign "to pressure the U.S. government and military to put an end to the unjust detention and abuse of detainees." On March 1, 2005, Posner and HRF joined the American Civil Liberties Union
and a private law firm in filing a lawsuit against Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on behalf of Iraqi and
Afghan civilians who allegedly had been tortured while in U.S.
custody. Posner accused
the U.S. government of committing crimes “against mankind, against
humanity.” In March 2006, a judge dismissed the case against
In the mid-2000s, Posner―along with
such luminaries as Eric
Louis Gates, George
Soros, and Anthony
an advisor vis-à-vis the International Freedom Center (IFC) which was slated to be built at the site of New York's Ground Zero. Funded and supported by the
Open Society Institute, HRF,
and the ACLU, the IFC―under the counsel of Posner et al―initially planned to serve not as a memorial to either the victims or the heroes of 9/11, but rather as a multimedia tutorial about man’s inhumanity to man throughout the ages (with some emphasis on American transgressions). Public outrage over this proposal eventually forced New York Governor
George Pataki to axe it.
In July 2009, the Obama administration nominated
Posner to serve as Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy,
Human Rights and Labor. Two months later, Posner praised President Obama for deciding to have the U.S. join the United Nations Human Rights Council.
In May 2010, Posner headed the American delegation to a “U.S.-China Human Rights
Dialogue,” a two-day affair held in Washington, DC. During a meeting with the Chinese delegation, Posner and his fellow American representatives repeatedly
made reference to the recently enacted Arizona immigration-law-enforcement bill (SB
1700) as an example of America’s own human-rights failures―"a troubling trend in our society, and an indication that
we have to deal with issues of discrimination or potential
discrimination." Posner and his team also lamented the “treatment of Muslim
Americans in an immigration context,” as well as the problem of “racial discrimination” in the United States.
For additional information on Michael Posner, click here.