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Reform Jewish Movement Affirms Right to Judicial Review for Guantanamo Bay Detainees in Supreme Court Amicus Brief

Wishner: In accordance with our American legal tradition and inspired by our sacred Jewish heritage, we support the right of the Guantanamo detainees to challenge the legality of their detentions in American courts.

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January 16, 2004, WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Union for Reform Judaism, along with other religious, legal, and human rights organizations, filed a "friend of the court" brief with the U.S. Supreme Court on January 14. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case of foreign nationals being held indefinitely as "enemy combatants" at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay. The case will determine whether the detainees have the right to file for habeas corpus, and thereby challenge the legality of their detentions, in U.S. courts. Jane Wishner, Chair of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism, issued the following statement:

As we strive, in this age of terrorism, to strike the appropriate balance between our cherished, constitutionally protected freedoms and our national security, we turn to Jewish law for guidance, which affirms the spark of the divine in every individual and mandates the just treatment of strangers among us. Drawing on our sacred Jewish heritage and core principles of due process that are part of our Nation's laws and legal tradition, the Union for Reform Judaism supports the right of Guantanamo detainees to challenge their detention in American courts.

Understanding the urgency of enhancing national security in the wake of September 11, we strive to ensure the proper balance between safety and liberty. Crucial anti-terrorism measures have been enacted to provide law enforcement officials with strong tools to combat terrorism, but we must be careful not to sacrifice, in the name of a safer America, constitutionally protected freedoms and the right to due process. In recent years, there has been a steady erosion of due process rights for citizens and non-citizens alike. The United States has been holding foreign nationals from more than 40 different countries at Guantanamo since early 2002. The detainees have not been afforded a hearing to determine their participation in any conflict, their connection to any crime, or any charges against them.

The Supreme Court will enter the debate over these detentions by reviewing the decision by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in Al Odah v. United States and Rasul v. Bush cases. Based on its assessment of the Guantanamo camp as not sovereign American territory, this lower court held that foreign nationals detained at Guantanamo may not petition U.S. courts for review of their detention.

We and our fellow amici argue that, under the U.S. habeas corpus statute, which applies to anyone detained in violation of the laws or treaties of the United States, the Guantanamo detainees are entitled to federal judicial review of their detention.

In accordance with our American legal tradition and inspired by our sacred Jewish heritage, we support the right of the Guantanamo detainees to challenge the legality of their detentions in American courts. The government must be empowered to detain and prosecute terrorists effectively, but basic protections of judicial review and due process embedded in our judicial system must not beabandoned. We must not destroy or undermine the very freedoms and protections we claim to be fighting to preserve.

In addition to the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, who authored the brief, and the Union for Reform Judaism, signatories to the brief include: the American Civil Liberties Union; the American Jewish Committee; Amnesty International; the Anti-Defamation League; the Association of the Bar of the City of New York; Human Rights Watch; the Islamic Circle of North America; the National Council of Churches of Christ; the Law Society of England and Wales; the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers; the National Association of Social Workers Legal Defense Fund; People for the American Way Foundation; the Rutherford Institute; Trial Lawyers for Public Justice, and the Union for Reform Judaism. The law firm of Wiggin & Dana, New Haven, Ct., served as counsel on the brief.


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(CCAR) whose membership includes more than 1800 Reform rabbis .

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