Bill Goodman

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William "Bill" Goodman

CoC National Conference endorser

In 1992 Bill Goodman, NLG, Detroit endorsed the Committees of Correspondence national conference Conference on Perspectives for Democracy and Socialism in the 90s held at Berkeley California July 17-19.[1]

Leaving Detroit

In 1998, Goodman left Detroit for New York where his main work has been as the legal director at the Center for Constitutional Rights. In New York, he has represented Guantanamo Bay detainees, Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange and the wrongfully convicted teens in the notorious "Central Park jogger" case.

He's taken on the Bush administration, the New York City Police Department and the state prison system. He's working on cases involving domestic wiretapping and prisoner rights related to President Bush's so-called war on terror. He also unsuccessfully defended a Yemeni sheik charged with attempting to gather funds for terrorist groups. The sheik, Mohammed Ali Hassan Al-Moayad, was sentenced to 75 years in prison and a $1.25 million fine.

But Goodman's most high-profile and far-reaching case may be just beginning: He's been overseeing the complaint the center recently filed asking Germany's federal prosecutor to open an investigation of alleged war crimes committed by high-ranking members of the Bush administration, including former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, for authorizing torture at Guantanamo.

"I'm very comfortable with the evidence against Rumsfeld. There are a number of interrogation memos which are torture memos. They were prepared at his direction," Goodman says. "He was involved in almost a day-to-day supervision of some of these."

The German case is just the latest in several years' worth of legal action the center has taken at Goodman's direction. The center's attorneys were among the first to seek habeas corpus for the alleged terrorists detained at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, and Goodman has sought relief for the hundreds of Muslim men detained in national "roundups" after Sept. 11. Other cases have dealt with individual prisoners held and never convicted of terrorism or other crimes.

Howard Simon, the executive director of the ACLU of Florida and the former executive director of the group in Michigan, worked with Goodman when both were in Detroit and has followed his career. He describes Goodman and the center as the earliest pioneers in the now-growing movement to seek justice and human rights for the detainees.

Many major Washington, D.C., law firms now do pro bono work for the detainees, Simon says, but the center became involved in the tense months immediately after 9/11: "When Bill jumped in and the Center for Constitutional Rights jumped in, it was not as fashionable as it is now."

Filed on behalf of 12 detainees from Iraq and Saudi Arabia, the German complaint names Rumsfeld, former CIA Director George Tenet and a host of other defense and Pentagon officials. Through the provisions of Universal Jurisdiction — a German law that allows criminal offenses under international law to be prosecuted in Germany regardless of where the crimes occurred — the suit specifically seeks an investigation of the treatment and torture of prisoners in military jails in Iraq and Cuba, including the infamous Abu Ghraib compound.

"We've received very favorable attention in the press throughout the world about this," Goodman says. "The federal prosecutor in Germany now has to make a decision about whether she is going to move forward with this criminal complaint and commence a serious investigation."

The case is getting some high-profile support. Former Brig. General Janis Karpinski, who commanded military police soldiers throughout Iraq, including the prison guards disciplined over prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib, is voluntarily providing testimony for the case. Found to have not given her unit proper training, Karpinski was demoted to colonel in the aftermath of Abu Ghraib and has since retired from the military. But she maintains the prisoners who were abused, as documented in the infamous photographs, were under the control of private interrogators, not necessarily her military police units.

She points to the highest levels of the Bush administration when assigning responsibility for war crimes.

Karpinski's statement for the German court, as provided by the Center for Constitutional Rights, reads, in part: "I am willing to testify in a German criminal investigation because of the prison abuses in Abu Ghraib and the release of intentionally misleading information attempting to blame 'seven bad apples' when it was clear the knowledge and responsibility goes all the way to the top of the chain of command to the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld."

The highest-ranking officer disciplined in the Abu Ghraib abuses, Karpinski says she became involved with the Center for Constitutional Rights after meeting Marjorie Cohn, a San Diego lawyer and law professor who asked Karpinski to speak to a class. Cohn is the president of the National Lawyers Guild, a position Goodman once held. Through Cohn, Karpinski met CCR President Michael Ratner who introduced her to Goodman.

While calling the U.S. military involvement in Iraq an "illegal war," Goodman also describes the idea of ending it through court actions as "highly" unlikely and unrealistic.

"Courts resist lawsuits that are blatantly political. The argument is there's a political process. There's a democratic process in this country, and that's how we resolve these major political issues, whether our leaders have gotten it or not," Goodman says.

Seeking a legal end to war and military action has, in the past, failed, Goodman says. The center attempted a lawsuit to end U.S. military assistance in Nicaragua but a federal district court dismissed it.

Instead, the center's cases are aimed at more individual aspects of the Bush administration's military policies.

"Our end goal is not really just the war. We're fighting to preserve the U.S. Constitution, and I think that is addressed very directly in all of these cases," Goodman says.[2]

Background

Bill Goodman's late father, Ernest Goodman, opened the country's first racially integrated law firm here in 1951 with George Crockett, Jr., who later served as a Detroit Recorders Court judge and congressman.

The firm, eventually called Goodman, Eden, Millender and Bedrosian, closed in 1998 after Bill Goodman left for New York. He had worked at the firm for 30 years, meeting the partners before he was even a law student. They included Robert Millender, an African-American labor attorney and political activist who was strategist or campaign manager for Coleman Young and other black officials during the 1960s and 1970s, and George Bedrosian, who is now the ombudsman for the Eastern District of Michigan.

During its five decades, the firm's lawyers — the Goodmans especially — were known for their dogged work on human rights and civil liberties cases.

If there was a constitutional or civil rights issue in Detroit during the last half of the 20th century, Ernest Goodman was probably involved. He defended six leaders of the Michigan Communist Party after they were arrested in 1952 under the Smith Act for conspiring to teach and advocate the overthrow of the U.S. government. Goodman lost the case at lower levels, but the appeals process led to the U.S. Supreme Court reversing the decision and releasing the defendants. The elder Goodman defended Black Panthers. He worked on school desegregation cases. He represented a soldier in an all-black combat unit stationed in the Philippines who was accused of murdering another soldier.

"Ernie Goodman was the guiding light of the progressive community of which my father was a member," says Lisa Gleicher, daughter of Morris Gleicher, a former Metro Times columnist and public relations practitioner for some of Detroit's leading politicians.

When Morris Gleicher was indicted for allegedly conspiring to defraud the state of Michigan, the Goodmans defended him — successfully — in federal court in 1980. An ongoing federal investigation into the Michigan Secretary of State's Office had turned up a $1,200 check to Gleicher for his work on the state's bicentennial license plate. The feds maintained state employees had done the work. But witnesses testified Gleicher had coordinated artists, metal suppliers, the paint company, prison officials and the Secretary of State's Office to produce the plate, earning him the $1,200 payment.

The government provided evidence for seven weeks, but the father-and-son Goodman team decided no defense was needed. It took the jury less than three hours to acquit Gleicher of all charges.

"Our legal defense costs could have bankrupted my family if it were not for the incredible support that came from other sources," Morris Gleicher wrote in the Metro Times in 1990. "Out of their sense of justice and their friendship, Detroit attorneys Ernest and Bill Goodman and their firm undertook my defense with no fee."

Now in private practice in Royal Oak, Lisa Gleicher worked for the Goodman firm after she graduated from law school in 1979 until 1994. Like all attorneys at the firm, she worked on pro bono cases, often in conjunction with the ACLU of Michigan. Gleicher and Bill Goodman handled several cases aimed at maintaining and restoring women's access to health services including abortion during the 1980s and 1990s. They didn't win very many of them.

The ACLU's Simon worked with the Goodmans on cases including the 1977 federal lawsuit charging the FBI and the federal government with not preventing the brutal attack by Klansmen against Freedom Riders in Alabama in 1961. Walter Bergman, a Michigan man, was critically injured in the assault and Goodman won him at least minimal monetary compensation after the jury agreed the feds had allowed the Klan attack to happen.

"What's Bill like as a lawyer? He's eloquent, inspiring and he always saw the big picture politically," Simon says.

But Goodman also identifies a summer job as being almost as influential as his father's professional life. After his first year of law school at the University of Chicago, Goodman chose to intern at a small African-American law firm in Virginia where he helped draft pleadings and develop legal arguments in desegregation cases throughout the South.

"I became very engaged in what it means to be a part of history and work with real people in the struggle," he says. "That sort of moved me a great deal."

After graduating, Goodman returned to Detroit and worked with his father. They spearheaded the defense of prisoners charged in the Attica Prison riots of 1971. "Almost all of the criminal prosecutions — and there were a couple thousand — were either won or dismissed or the governor pardoned everybody because the prosecution was such a scandal," he says.

Robert Sedler, a Wayne State University law professor, sometimes consulted or worked with the Goodman firm on constitutional cases during the 1980s. The firm, he says, paid its bills with personal injury work, but "devoted a certain amount of its time to pro bono and civil rights litigation. It was understood that every lawyer there was going to do some work on that," Sedler says.

In 1985, Sedler worked with Bill Goodman on the case that challenged the city of Dearborn's law prohibiting non-residents from using public parks. "The ordinance got struck down on racial grounds and also because of illegal search and seizure," Sedler says.

Since then, Sedler has stayed in contact with Goodman, seeing him at events and applauding his work with the Center for Constitutional Rights. And Sedler notes that over the years, the CCR has taken "more and more difficult cases" — especially after 9/11.[3]

New York, New York

Goodman says it was "very hard" to leave Detroit in 1998, but when the Center for Constitutional Rights needed a new legal director, he knew he had to apply. It's an organization that goes back to the '60s with the era's firebrand lawyer William Kunstler as one of its founders. Its high-profile clients have included defense of the Chicago 7, and it handled the case establishing, in 1972, that electronic surveillance without a warrant is unconstitutional.

"I decided to engage in civil rights on a full-time basis," Goodman said. "I wanted to try and have some impact on civil rights and civil liberties issues."

His job included speaking engagements throughout the country and supervising the work of the center's 12 staff and three contract attorneys who were working primarily on racial profiling, police brutality and international human rights cases.

Sept. 11, 2001, changed everything.

"The minute it happened, it was clear to me it was going to be used and appropriated by these guys to try to undermine very fundamental civil rights and liberties in this country and around the world. It was crystal clear to me," Goodman says.

As Bush's "war on terror" began to attack domestic civil and constitutional rights, Goodman led the center into battle. For the last few years, the focus has been on detainees in U.S. military prisons who have been held on secret evidence, have never been charged and, in some cases, have been tortured. A series of cases has been filed.

"I made the decision that the center needed to get engaged in wrongful detention in the United States and at Guantanamo. We have taken on the Guantanamo issue in a way that no one else has or is willing to."

Goodman has enlisted decades' worth of contacts around the country for legal work on behalf of Guantanamo's prisoners. Ann Arbor defense lawyer Doug Mullkoff is one of the volunteers. Mullkoff met Goodman in the 1970s when he was in law school at the Detroit College of Law and Goodman was president of the National Lawyers Guild.

In June 2004, Mullkoff was reading a newspaper article about the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Rasul v. Bush — one of the Center for Constitutional Rights' first Guantanamo cases — that declared detainees did have the right to challenge their indefinite detentions in U.S. courts.

The federal government had consistently argued that the detainees, as "terrorists," did not deserve court hearings and could be held indefinitely as "enemy combatants." The center's attorneys clung to the argument that the prisoners were indeed entitled to the constitutional right to a trial and to refute whatever evidence the government claimed to have against them.

The Supreme Court victory for the center sent its attorneys — and volunteers like Mullkoff, now roused to join the fray — back into the circuit courts on behalf of dozens of prisoners since the ruling cleared the way for habeas hearings to proceed.

"What happened was, like any other thinking person in the world, I was ticked off to no end at the abuse by the Bush administration of law and the blatant violation of civil rights and international law," Mullkoff says. "I e-mailed Bill Goodman ... and said, 'If you guys need any colleagues to represent somebody, let me know. I would like to volunteer.'"

A few weeks later, Mullkoff found himself part of a national effort to ensure terrorist suspects held in U.S. detention centers at least got the chance to hear evidence against them in a courtroom.

"I went to Washington, D.C., and was trained among the leaders of the Guantanamo Bar Association," Mullkoff quips, "along with a bunch of people from all over the country, lawyers who had come in for a weekend mini-course on how to handle these habeas cases."

Mullkoff represented a Saudi Arabian prisoner, Majid Al-Shamri, who had been picked up in 2002 in northern Pakistan where he was doing charity work. "The United States and the Northern Alliance were driving the defeated Taliban out of Afghanistan at that time," Mullkoff says. "Anybody who found themselves there at that time, whether they were involved in something or not, were part of a crowd of people swept toward Pakistan." As part of the sweep, the U.S. military dropped fliers offering "$5,000 per head for any foreigners who would be turned over to the U.S. government, and, to an Afghan sheepherder, $5,000 was a lot of money," Mullkoff says.

Al-Shamri, who had fought side-by-side with U.S. forces when he was in the Kuwaiti army during the 1991 Gulf War, was sent to Guantanamo. In March 2005, Mullkoff, working with the center, filed a lawsuit on Al-Shamri's behalf on the grounds of violations of habeas corpus and the Geneva Conventions. After a U.S. District Court judge ruled the government had to file a substantive response, Mullkoff got security clearance to review Al-Shamri's file at the Pentagon.

"I could not believe how lame the reasons given by the government were for holding my guy. I'm not allowed to tell you what they were, that's classified, but it was garbage," Mullkoff says.

Not long after, the government dismissed the basis for holding Al-Shamri and he was sent home to Saudi Arabia where Mullkoff believes he is still imprisoned. "He had informed me that he knew the Saudis may hold him in jail, but compared to being held by the Americans and the conditions of confinement at Guantanamo without charge, it was a no-brainer for him. He wanted to leave and go into Saudi custody," Mullkoff says.[4]

CCR v.

In November 2004, the center filed a criminal complaint against Rumsfeld and other high-ranking U.S. military and intelligence officials in Germany on behalf of four Iraqi citizens who were beaten, made to wear hoods, sexually abused and deprived of food and sleep while in U.S. custody. According to the doctrine of universal jurisdiction, which Germany subscribes to, the prosecution of suspected war criminals can take place outside of where the defendant is located. The center had a friendly German prosecutor willing to take the case, Goodman says, though it could have chosen many other countries and might in the future.

The 2004 case was dismissed three months later, with German authorities, in part, saying it should be handled by U.S. courts.

A year ago, Goodman, on behalf of the center, filed a case to stop the Bush Administration's domestic electronic surveillance. The suit names President Bush and the heads of major security agencies and charges they are in violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act for the widespread, warrantless surveillance of people in the United States without judicial approval or statutory authorization. The case is progressing.[5]

ACLU meeting

More than 150 people, including several Democratic Socialists of America members , participated in the Metro Detroit ACLU's conference, "Reclaiming Our Rights," January 26th 2008 at the Arab-American National Museum in Dearborn.

Representative John Conyers, Jr., State Senator Gilda Jacobs, State Representative Steve Tobocman, attorney Bill Goodman, and others spoke on the "threats to civil liberties both nationally, under the Bush Administration, and here in Michigan."

ACLU Legal Director Mike Steinberg described several recent civil liberties cases..

"Recent revelations about wiretapping, Internet spying, torture cover-ups, and library censorship show us that the need to protect our rights has never been greater," said Heather Bendure, chair of the ACLU's Metro Detroit branch. [6]

Maurice & Jane Sugar Law Center

As at Jan. 27, 2011, Bill Goodman served on the Board of Directors for the Maurice & Jane Sugar Law Center.[7]

Essential: Advocacy for Workplace Justice

In 2008, Bill Goodman was present at the Essential: Advocacy for Workplace Justice Reception & Silent Auction at Detroit Public Library’s Skillman branch. The reception, which was held on Nov. 14, 2008 is the annual fundraising event to benefit the far left National Lawyers Guild-affiliated Maurice & Jane Sugar Law Center for Economic & Social Justice. The guest of honor at the reception was Andy Levin, son of Congressman Sander Levin, and Deputy Director at the Michigan Department of Labor & Economic Growth.[8]

Vietnam Agent Orange Relief & Responsibility Campaign

In 2012 Bill Goodman served on the Board of the Vietnam Agent Orange Relief & Responsibility Campaign.[9]

References