Wishner: Guided by the highest ideals of the American legal system and inspired by our religious heritage, the Union for Reform Judaism supports the right of Yasser Hamdi to be afforded the protections of due process and judicial review of detentions.
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NEW YORK, February 24, 2004 - The Union for Reform Judaism, along with other religious and legal organizations, filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, the case of Yasser Hamdi, a U.S. citizen allegedly captured in Afghanistan, labeled an "enemy combatant" by the Administration, and detained in a military brig since April 2002. The court's decision will determine whether Yasser Hamdi has the right to file for habeas corpus and thereby challenge the legality of his ongoing detention. Jane Wishner, Chair of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism, issued the following statement:
Understanding the need to provide our government with powerful tools to fight terrorism, the Union for Reform Judaism urges caution when the constitutional rights of Americans are at risk. We strive, in this age of terrorism, to strike the appropriate balance between our cherished, constitutionally protected freedoms and our national security. Drawing on our sacred Jewish heritage and the core principles of due process that are part of our nation's legal tradition, the Union for Reform Judaism supports Yasser Hamdi's right both to legal representation and to challenge his detention in court.
The Supreme Court will enter the debate over Hamdi's detention by reviewing the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals' decision from January 2003 which overturned the Virginia District Court decision in favor of Hamdi. The District Court decision ordered the government to provide for court review of the factual basis underlying the government's determination that Hamdi is an "enemy combatant." The Fourth Circuit's decision, on the other hand, gave the administration authority to continue to detain Hamdi indefinitely without charge or trial. The government did not allow Hamdi to meet with a lawyer until December 2003, and even then the meeting was monitored by the military.
We and our fellow amici argue that, under the constitutional right to due process and the U.S. habeas corpus statute, Yasser Hamdi is entitled to challenge the legality of his detention in a court of law. As we state in the brief, "This case raises the most fundamental issues that a court can be asked to decide. Acting through his Secretary of Defense, the President has asserted the unilateral right to imprison an American citizen without charges, without trial, without access to counsel except under terms and conditions that the Executive is free to dictate, and without the protection of international treaties ratified by the United States that are designed to protect even foreign soldiers captured in wartime."
Supporting Hamdi's right to challenge the legal basis for his detention does not weaken our resolve against terrorism but reaffirms our commitment to a strong, effective security grounded in law and respect for individual rights.
Guided by the highest ideals of the American legal system and inspired by our religious heritage, the Union for Reform Judaism supports the right of Yasser Hamdi to be afforded the protections of due process and judicial review of detentions. Basic protections of the fundamental freedoms embedded in our judicial system must not be disregarded even as the government must be empowered to detain and prosecute terrorists effectively.
In addition to the American Civil Liberties Union, who authored the brief, and the Union for Reform Judaism, signatories to the brief include: the American Jewish Committee and Trial Lawyers for Public Justice.
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 .