The Legal Aftermath of 9/11: Part 3

The Legal Aftermath of 9/11: Part 3


"Break Them Down: Systematic Use of Psychological Torture by U.S. Forces" is the title of a report written by Gretchen Borchelt '02 in her work for Physicians for Human Rights (PHR).

The report, published in May by PHR, addresses the suspected use of torture in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, by U.S. troops.

"Psychological torture is happening in all of the detention centers," she says. "We want to point out the health consequences, which can have as devastating an impact as physical torture....The Bush administration wants to allow anything that's just short of physical torture. That's a slippery slope."

Ms. Borchelt, now with the National Women's Law Center, says PHR also implemented a media campaign and lobbied the Schlesinger panel to investigate the use of torture. The four-member panel, headed by former Defense Secretary James R. Schlesinger, faulted the Pentagon's leadership for failing to exercise adequate oversight and allowing conditions that led to the abuse of detainees in Iraq.

The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), led by Michael Ratner '69, successfully challenged the U.S. government's practice of indefinitely detaining foreign nationals at Guantánamo Bay without due process of law. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June 2004 that the detainees have access to U.S. courts to challenge their detention, and CCR has since filed briefs on behalf of 13 detainees.
 Although he initially received a great deal of hate mail for his efforts, Mr. Ratner says the mood has changed.

"There's been a big shift in the past two years as people began to see what was happening to basic civil rights. People are much more sympathetic now, especially lawyers."

For the past two years, Ranjana Natarajan '99 has been assisting people caught in the net of counter-terrorism investigations and law enforcement operations in her work for the ACLU of Southern California. One of her current clients, a long-term resident of the United States, was a fund-raiser for a charity that was shut down after 9/11. The government, which is prosecuting the client in immigration court, alleges that the charity he worked for indirectly or directly supported terrorism, though the government is also willing to admit that the group supported legitimate causes.

"[It's unfair to target] someone because he once ‘met' people who years down the road would become related in some way to terrorists," she says. "It's a violation of freedom of association and free speech." She adds, "As lawyers, we have to fight hard to defend these rights and look deeper at the justification of national security."

Jo Anne C. Adlerstein '76 has been doing immigration work for more than 25 years - first as an assistant U.S. attorney prosecuting corrupt immigration attorneys, then with the immigrants themselves. Immigration law changed drastically after September 11, says the head of Brown Raysman Millstein Felder & Steiner's immigration law practice.

"It was a very gratifying practice. I was able to help get political asylum for many people," says Ms. Adlerstein, who has often appeared on national media programs to lobby for changes in the law. Since 9/11, "my practice has changed. Instead of telling people ‘yes, we can help,' now I have to tell them it won't work unless there's a change in the law. I continue to work on political asylum cases and am still able to get some through, but the level of review is much greater."


As numerous Columbia alumni are working to prosecute terrorists and restore rights, others are spearheading efforts to rebuild the area devastated by the attacks. Among them are leaders of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC), which was created by Governor George Pataki '70 and then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani to oversee the revitalization of the area south of Houston Street.

"Already the LMDC's efforts to rebuild and revitalize Lower Manhattan are yielding more than $3 billion in economic impact," Gov. Pataki said in a November 2004 speech. "We estimate the long-term redevelopment efforts will bring in over $25 billion each year and over 130,000 new jobs by the year 2025."

Roland W. Betts '78, an LMDC board member and chair of the Site Planning Committee, was given the challenging task of overseeing the redevelopment of Ground Zero. The LMDC orchestrated a worldwide competition relating to the creation of a master plan for Ground Zero that attracted internationally known architects and planners. Ultimately, Studio Daniel Libeskind was selected for the site. Mr. Libeskind's master plan includes the Freedom Tower which, if built, will be the world's tallest building.

The process of planning and executing in New York is never easy, let alone with an area as large and symbolic as downtown Manhattan. For example, in May, the NYPD raised strong security concerns with the Freedom Tower's torquing exoskeleton design, which will now have to be modified. In addition, Goldman Sachs, the investment powerhouse, announced that it had decided not to construct its headquarters across the street from the WTC site. Still, Mr. Betts is not fazed by these hurdles.

"The issues relating to security of the Freedom Tower and its consequent redesign is our current focus," he says. "It is a problem with a solution. The press flurry surrounding these issues was a little hysterical and disproportionate to the problem. At any given moment, there are always problems at Ground Zero, but one by one they get resolved. My job is to keep the rebuilding moving forward. And it is."

"We had support from the families and interest from the public," adds Ira Millstein '49, who serves as pro bono counsel to the LMDC and who organized the entity as a corporation. "Because it's a hot spot, everyone is interested in what's happening."

Louis Tomson '64, who served as president of the LMDC during the critical years immediately following 9/11, stepped down from his post in 2003. At that time, he said: "I feel confident that the design selected will establish a solid foundation for the renewal of Lower Manhattan. It reconciles the city's need to rebuild and reaffirm life while never forgetting those who were killed on September 11th."

A separate design contest was held for a permanent memorial. The World Trade Center Memorial Foundation has been created to raise $600 million to $800 million for the memorial, according to Mr. Millstein, who is on the foundation's board and also serves as its pro bono counsel.

Gov. Pataki said at the unveiling ceremony for the design, "This memorial will be a special place to remember the thousands of lives cut short and recall the spirit and love of freedom which prevailed." 

In that spirit, Columbia alumni will continue their important work.