The Cuban missile crisis is widely known as the one time, as Kennedy White House aide

Theodore Sorenson

puts it, the world “stared down the gun barrel of nuclear war.” But the most dangerous episode of the nuclear era seems to have escaped White House press secretary

Dana Perino

–despite its historical centrality to her boss’s policies of intervention to halt the spread of (nonexistent) weapons of mass destruction. Recently, when a reporter asked Perino to comment on Russian President

Vladimir Putin

‘s comparison of a US-European defense system to the Soviet installation of missiles in Cuba in 1962, she punted. Later she admitted, “I really don’t know about…the Cuban missile crisis” and deduced this salient fact: “It had to do with Cuba and missiles, I’m pretty sure.”

President Bush seemed more confident on the matter when, in October 2002, he invoked Kennedy’s handling of the missile crisis as a precedent for a pre-emptive strike on Iraq. “I would flunk him in history,” the late

Arthur Schlesinger Jr

. said of Bush at the time. Certainly, he would have flunked Perino as well.   PETER KORNBLUH


“It is the job of thinking people not to be on the side of the executioners.” So began

Michael Ratner

‘s speech at The Nation Institute’s annual dinner as he accepted the 2007 Puffin/Nation Prize for Creative Citizenship. For years, Ratner and the “splendid band of tigerish people” he leads at the

Center for Constitutional Rights

(CCR) have been heading the fight against the executioners, torturers and kidnappers who commit their crimes under the cover of state, badge and gown. As the Bush Administration prosecutes its “war on terror”–illegally detaining thousands of people at Guantánamo Bay and other locations, suspending long-cherished civil liberties, spying on its own citizens and rationalizing torture–Ratner and CCR have been at their best. With courage and dedication, CCR lawyers and staff have demanded due process for detainees, adequate safeguards against government surveillance and an end to torture and extraordinary rendition. Twice they won rights for Guantánamo detainees in cases before the Supreme Court, only to have those victories undermined by Congress. “Sometimes my colleagues and I feel like Sisyphus,” Ratner confessed.

But Ratner and his band persist. On December 5 they were again in front of the Supreme Court, arguing Al Odah v. US–which directly challenged the constitutionality of the Military Commissions Act of 2006.

One of the world’s foremost defenders of human rights and civil liberties, Ratner has taught at Yale and Columbia law schools and served as president of the National Lawyers Guild. Founded in 2001 by the Puffin Foundation and The Nation Institute to recognize an individual who has challenged the status quo through distinctive, courageous, imaginative and socially responsible work of significance, the Puffin/Nation Prize has previously gone to

Amy Goodman


Jonathan Kozol


Barbara Ehrenreich


David Protess


Dolores Huerta


Robert Parris Moses