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RALPH FERTIG Printer Friendly Page

Humanitarian Law Project
By Jean Pearce
April 14, 2004

Terrorism Is Free Speech
By Michael Radu
February 3, 2004

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  • President of the Humanitarian Law Project
  • Opposes major components of the Patriot Act
  • Endorsed "World Can’t Wait," a project of the Revolutionary Communist Party


Ralph Fertig was born to German immigrant parents in 1930 and was raised in Chicago. He received a B.A. from the University of Chicago in 1950, an M.A. from Columbia University in 1952, and a Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Chicago in 1955. While earning his bachelor's degree, Fertig formed a student branch of the NAACP. He subsequently became a member of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and viewed Paul Robeson as one of his heroes.

During the 1960s, Fertig was part of the Freedom Rider movement protesting Jim Crow laws in the American South. He was once jailed for “disturbing the peace” while demonstrating in Alabama. Fertig went on to earn a J.D. from 
UCLA Law School in 1979 and eventually became a civil-rights attorney and an administrative law judge. He is best known, however, as the longtime president of the Humanitarian Law Project (HLP).

Fertig strongly objected to the passage of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) of 1996, a Patriot Act precursor, which made it a crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison to provide “material support” to any foreign organization designated as a terrorist group by the Secretary of State.

In 1998 Fertig was a lead plaintiff in
Humanitarian Law Project, et al. v. Reno et al., a federal court case where HLP tried to protect Americans' right to donate money, if they wished, to the Sri Lanka-based Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the Turkey-based Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Both of these separatist, Marxist entities had been formally designated as foreign terrorist organizations, and their actions had theretofore led to more than 100,000 deaths during the preceding two decades. Notwithstanding this bloody track record, Fertig and his fellow plaintiffs maintained that with a proper blend of persuasion and education, PKK in particular could be convinced to renounce its violent tactics and to work, instead, within the framework of “various representative bodies such as the United Nations for relief.” By Fertig's reckoning, the ban against giving aid to PKK and other terrorist groups was “more dangerous than McCarthyism” had ever been.

Acting as lead counsel for the plaintiffs in the HLP case was Georgetown law professor David Cole, who argued that the provisions of the AEDPA and the Patriot Act “do not require proof that an individual intended to further terrorist activity, and that the law, therefore, imposes guilt by association, rather than on the basis of one’s acts.”
In a January 26, 2004 decision, Federal Judge Audrey B. Collins sided with HLP, Cole, and Fertig, ruling that the U.S. Departments of State and Justice had no legal authority to prevent anyone from providing material support to terror groups. “[The ban] was in part a violation of the First Amendment of the Constitution,” said Fertig, “which allows free association and free speech, and also [a violation of] the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution, which grants due process before criminalizing someone.”

In 2001 Fertig was a signatory to a 
letter condemning Great Britain’s recently enacted Terrorism Act of 2000. Asserting that the new statute “represent[s] a serious threat to civil liberties in this country and tarnishes Britain’s tradition of providing a haven for those seeking refuge from repressive regimes overseas,” the letter objected to the British government's designation of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) as a terrorist organization. “For the British government to proscribe the PKK at this present time,” added the letter, “can only indicate a wilful [sic] blindness as to the nature of the party, which has long been pursuing a peaceful policy…” Other signers of the appeal included Harold PinterArthur MillerNoam Chomsky, and the Socialist Alliance.

Fertig was a supporter of
World Can’t Wait (WCW), a Revolutionary Communist Party project that sought to organize “people living in the United States to take responsibility to stop the whole disastrous course led by the [George W.] Bush administration.” On September 20, 2006, Fertig lent his name to a WCW ad in The New York Times promoting an upcoming rally against “the Bush regime” and its: (a) pursuit of “endless wars,” (b) routine use of “torture,” (c) indifference to the victims of Hurricane Katrina (in 2005), and (d) quest to transform the United States into a Christian “theocracy.” For a list of Fertig's fellow signatories, click here.

In 2008, Fertig 
donated money to the presidential campaign of Barack Obama. That April, Fertig was in contention to become a delegate for Obama in California’s 30th Congressional District, but ultimately he was not selected.

In addition to his work with HLP, Fertig at various times has also served as a supporting member of the 
Campaign Against Criminalizing Communities; vice president of the Southern California chapter of Americans for Democratic Action; an executive board member of the Progressive Jewish Alliance; an executive board member of Peace Now; a board member of the Pacifica Foundation; and a clinical associate professor of Social Welfare in the University of Southern California's School of Social Work.

For additional information on Ralph Fertig, click here.


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