Marjorie Cohn

American law professor

Marjorie Cohn (born November 1, 1948) is an American professor emerita at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law, San Diego, California, former president of the National Lawyers Guild, a legal scholar, political analyst, & author of books and articles. She lectures throughout the world about US foreign policy, human rights, and the contradictions between the two.




  • In a patently political decision, the U.K. High Court reversed the British lower court’s denial of extradition of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the United States on a narrow ground, despite the recent revelations of a CIA plot to kidnap and assassinate him... Assange was charged by the Trump administration with violation of the Espionage Act for revealing evidence of U.S. war crimes in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay. He could be sentenced to 175 years in prison if he is tried and convicted in the United States. But instead of dismissing Trump’s indictment, the Biden administration continues to pursue the case against Assange, notwithstanding the grave threats his prosecution poses to investigative and national security journalism.
  • Two days before the High Court ruling,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken declared at the so-called Summit for Democracy, “Media freedom plays an indispensable role in informing the public, holding governments accountable, and telling stories that otherwise would not be told. The U.S. will continue to stand up for the brave and necessary work of journalists around the world.”
    If Assange is tried, convicted and imprisoned for doing what journalists routinely do, it will send a chilling message to journalists that they publish material critical of the U.S. government at their peril.
    But by vigorously pursuing Assange’s extradition, the U.S. is doing precisely the opposite. The prosecution of Assange is the first time a journalist has been indicted under the Espionage Act for publishing truthful information.


  • In order to have a legal arrest, you need probable cause to believe that the person committed a crime. And these snatches, by unidentified federal officials in unmarked vehicles, snatching peaceful protesters off the streets, transporting them to unknown locations without informing them of why they’re being arrested, and later releasing them with no record of their arrest, violates the law. And this “proactive” arrest that the Department of Homeland Security is intending to carry out, violates the Fourth Amendment, which requires that, as I said, an arrest be supported by probable cause.... There is nothing in the law that allows “proactive arrest.”
    • ‘Trump’s Troops Are Breaking the Law and Creating Chaos’... CounterSpin interview with Marjorie Cohn on Portland secret police, Janine Jackson, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), (30 July 2020)
  • It’s the power of the people, and people are in the streets—hundreds of thousands of people in the streets in US cities, and in cities around the world—in support of the Movement for Black Lives, and against police brutality... we can’t rely on the legal system, but it’s a tool that we have to use... my organization, the National Lawyers Guild, is front and center in the middle of legal defense for the protesters... to witness what the police are doing... they have been the target of police brutality and violence... there is an ACLU lawsuit... asking for an injunction against these federal agents targeting legal observers, and targeting journalists as well, because the last thing in the world that the Trump administration and his goons want are witnesses, are media that are witnessing what’s happening... there are lawsuits being filed in support of the real power, and that is the power of the people.
    • ‘Trump’s Troops Are Breaking the Law and Creating Chaos’... CounterSpin interview with Marjorie Cohn on Portland secret police, Janine Jackson, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), (30 July 2020)
  • China and Iran have drafted a “sweeping economic and security partnership,” according to The New York Times... This “strategic partnership” is the result of Donald Trump’s punishing sanctions against Iran... If China and Iran conclude their partnership agreement, Trump would presumably be less likely to use military force against Iran. If he did, he would have to be willing to take on China as well. That would be most unwise.
  • A war crimes complaint has been filed against President Donald Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Trump adviser Jared Kushner in the International Criminal Court (ICC).... The complaint, filed by Middlesex University law professor William Schabas on June 30 on behalf of four Palestinians who live in the West Bank, states “there is credible evidence” that Trump, Netanyahu and Kushner “are complicit in acts that may amount to war crimes relating to the transfer of populations into occupied territory and the annexation of the sovereign territory of the State of Palestine.” Under article 15 of the ICC’s Rome Statute, any individual, group or organization can bring a complaint to the Office of the Prosecutor. ... Schabas’ complaint comes on the heels of unusual moves last month from the Trump administration, which declared a “national emergency” in June in an effort to shield U.S. and Israeli officials from ICC accountability for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
  • Democratic socialist Bernie Sanders received the most votes in the first three primary elections. After centrist Joe Biden scored his first primary win, the DNC consolidated the Democratic Party establishment around him. Candidates... immediately dropped out of the race and endorsed Biden... The party bosses likely wanted to ensure that Sanders would not upend the corporate order... At the March 15 debate with Biden, Sanders asked the rhetorical question: Where is the power in America? He then answered, “Who owns the media? Who owns the economy? Who owns the legislative process? Why do we give tax breaks to billionaires and not raise the minimum wage? Why do we pump up the oil industry while a half a million people are homeless in America?” Sanders criticized the bipartisan $8.3 billion coronavirus spending bill... [it] hurt low-wage workers... it contains no limits on the ability of the pharmaceutical companies to profit from the coronavirus.
  • At their debate, Biden confronted Sanders about his praise for Fidel Castro’s literacy campaign after the 1959 Cuban Revolution. Sanders replied that he opposed authoritarian governments but “it is incorrect to say they never do anything positive.” He cited China’s reduction in poverty... Biden said it’s one thing to occasionally mention something positive a country has done, but, he added, “the idea of praising a country that is violating human rights…” It is unlikely Biden was referring to the United States, whose officials are being investigated by the International Criminal Court for committing war crimes and crimes against humanity during the “war on terror.” Biden, who was instrumental in securing congressional approval for Bush’s Iraq War, will be a good steward of the empire.
  • The ACLU represents Khaled El Masri, Suleiman Salim and Mohamed Ben Soud, who described the torture they suffered in Afghanistan between 2003 and 2008. “This decision vindicates the rule of law and gives hope to the thousands of victims seeking accountability when domestic courts and authorities have failed them,” the ACLU’s Dakwar said...
    The impunity that U.S. officials have enjoyed for their international crimes may finally be coming to an end... Responding to Pompeo’s threats... “No one except the world’s most brutal regimes win when the United States tries to impugn and sabotage international institutions established to hold human rights abusers accountable... Countries must fully cooperate with this investigation and not submit to any authoritarian tactics by the Trump administration to sabotage it,” Jamil Dakwar, director of the ACLU’s Human Rights Project, said.
  • The Trump administration is seeking extradition of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the United States for trial on charges carrying 175 years in prison... The treaty between the U.S. and the U.K. prohibits extradition for a “political offense.” Assange was indicted for exposing U.S. war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan. That is a classic political offense. Moreover, Assange’s extradition would violate the legal prohibition against sending a person to a country where he is in danger of being tortured.
  • WikiLeaks... published nearly 400,000 field reports about the Iraq War, which contained evidence of U.S. war crimes, over 15,000 previously unreported deaths of Iraqi civilians, and the systematic murder, torture, rape and abuse by the Iraqi army and authorities that were ignored by U.S. forces.
    In addition, WikiLeaks published the Guantánamo Files, 779 secret reports that revealed the U.S. government’s systematic violation of the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, by abusing nearly 800 men and boys, ages 14 to 89.
    One of the most notorious releases by WikiLeaks was the 2007 “Collateral Murder” video, which showed a U.S. Army Apache helicopter target and fire on unarmed civilians in Baghdad. More than 12 civilians were killed, including two Reuters reporters and a man who came to rescue the wounded. Two children were injured. Then a U.S. Army tank drove over one of the bodies, severing it in half. Those acts constitute three separate war crimes prohibited by the Geneva Conventions and the U.S. Army Field Manual.


Divestment campaigns urge banks, local councils, churches, pension funds and universities to withdraw investments from all Israeli companies and from international companies involved in violating Palestinian rights...This call for BDS specified that “these non-violent punitive measures” should last until Israel fully complies with international law.
  • The BDS movement (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) was launched in 2005 by representatives of Palestinian civil society. They called upon “international civil society organizations and people of conscience all over the world to impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era …” This call for BDS specified that “these non-violent punitive measures” should last until Israel fully complies with international law... Divestment campaigns urge banks, local councils, churches, pension funds and universities to withdraw investments from all Israeli companies and from international companies involved in violating Palestinian rights... BDS initiatives have been passed by more than 50 councils in Spain and by dozens of other councils in the U.K., Australia, Sweden, Norway and Ireland. U.S. churches, including the Presbyterian Church USA, the United Church of Christ and the United Methodist Church (UMC), and several Quaker bodies have voted to divest from Israeli and international companies targeted by the BDS movement. Academic associations in the U.S., Canada, Ireland, South Africa and the U.K. have voted to support BDS. More than 30 U.S. student associations and 11 Canadian student associations have voted to support divestment from Israeli apartheid... The E.U. has introduced rules prohibiting funding of Israeli companies and bodies based in illegal Israeli settlements and has warned businesses about the risks of doing business with illegal Israeli settlements.
  • During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump declared he would “immediately” resume waterboarding and would “bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding” because the United States is facing a “barbaric” enemy. He labeled waterboarding a “minor form” of interrogation. Waterboarding, which involves pouring water into the nose and mouth to make victims feel like they’re drowning, has long been considered torture, which is a war crime under US and international law. Indeed, the United States hung Japanese military leaders for waterboarding as a war crime after World War II.
  • What does torture have in common with genocide, slavery and wars of aggression? They are all “jus cogens.” That’s Latin for “higher law” or “compelling law.” This means that under international law, no country can ever pass a law that allows torture. There can be no immunity from criminal liability for violation of a “jus cogens” prohibition. The United States has always prohibited torture — in our Constitution, laws, executive orders, judicial decisions and treaties. When we ratify a treaty, it becomes part of US law under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution. “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification for torture,” the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which the US ratified, states unequivocally. Torture is considered a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions, also ratified by the United States. Geneva classifies grave breaches as war crimes. The US War Crimes Act and 18 USC, sections 818 and 3231, punish torture, willfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health, and inhuman, humiliating or degrading treatment. And the Torture Statute criminalizes the commission, attempt, or conspiracy to commit torture outside the United States.
  • Gen. Barry McCaffrey noted, “We tortured people unmercifully. We probably murdered dozens of them during the course of that, both the armed forces and the CIA.” Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, who directed the Abu Ghraib investigation, wrote, “there is no longer any doubt as to whether the [Bush] administration has committed war crimes. The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account." ...The Obama administration’s refusal to bring the torturers to justice sends a clear message to future administrations — including the incoming one — that they can use torture with impunity. Moreover, if the United States does return to the bad old days of torture, “what kind of message would that be to the world?” asked Nils Melzer, UN special rapporteur on torture. “If the United States does it, those other countries will know they can get away with it. The last thing the world needs is a US president legitimizing this.”
    • State-Sanctioned Torture in the Age of Trump, by Marjorie Cohn,Truthout, (23 January 2017)



See also

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