Saperstein: To be successful, the war on terror must not lead to the loss of our compassion, commitment to human rights, and faith in the justness of our legal system.
Washington, DC., September 29, 2006 - In response to the disappointing passage of the Military Commissions Act, Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, issued the following statement:
Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, our nation has confronted the realities of terrorism at home and abroad. The subsequent war on terror has led to the capture of those believed to be seeking to do us harm and President Bush has argued that the tools of our justice system are inadequate to respond to the threats we face. The Military Commissions Act largely reflects the President’s requests for change – but contains provisions of grave concern to those who oppose sacrificing our nation’s historic commitment to civil liberties and our status as a beacon of justice.
We are taught in Deuteronomy, “Justice, justice, shall you pursue.” The legislation flies in the face of this exhortation to seek justice through just means. While we applaud the protection of the Geneva Conventions wrought with the recent compromise between the White House and Senate Republican critics, the bill still leaves opens the door to the use of questionable means of obtaining information from suspects; limits the ability of those on trial to see the full evidence against them; permits warrantless searches and seizures; allows the admission into evidence of coerced confessions; and fails to include one of the most valued aspects of our legal system, the writ of habeas corpus, which would grant terrorist suspects the right to challenge their detention.
It is clear that our nation faces new threats and challenges. Yet such challenges have long been faced by other nations that have been victims of terror, including Israel. Despite nearly 60 years of attacks on its citizens, Israel has sought to balance the protection of its citizens with its commitment to moral action. We would do well to learn from its example.
The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the
Washington office of the Union for Reform Judaism, whose more than 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, whose membership includes more than 1800 Reform rabbis.