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September 30, 2014 | 6th Tishrei 5775

Closing The Detention Center At Guantanamo Bay

Closing the Detention Center at Guantanamo Bay

Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism
April 2008


Since 2002, more than 775 individuals have been held at the American detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. After more than six years not one trial has been completed and 470 detainees have been released because no substantial case could be made against them. Of the more than 300 who remain in custody, all are stuck in a legal no-man’s-land without the ability to challenge their detention through a writ of habeas corpus and without the right to be charged or hear the evidence against them.

For these reasons the Supreme Court ruled in June 2006 (in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld) that their detentions under the military tribunal system were inherently unconstitutional and a violation of the standards set by the Geneva Conventions. Despite this ruling, Congress responded by passing the Military Commissions Act (MCA) which re-defined the standards by which terrorist suspects can be held as detainees in military prisons. Among its provisions, the MCA weakened our nation’s commitment to abiding by the rules of the Geneva Conventions and failed to protect the most valued aspects of the U.S. judicial system, including the rights of habeas corpus and due process.

Guantanamo Bay, however, has increasingly been recognized by human rights activists, legal scholars, elected officials, and others as both incompatible with American legal values and a blemish on the U.S. image abroad. It is for these reasons that many prominent individuals familiar with the national security ramifications of closing the facility have nevertheless called for the detention center at Guantanamo Bay to be closed permanently. In March 2008, five former Secretaries of State including Henry Kissinger, James Baker, Warren Christopher, Madeleine Albright, and Colin Powell called for the facility to be closed, arguing the need to say “to the world that we are now going to go back to our traditional, respected way of dealing with people who have potentially committed crimes.” In Congress, Senator Tom Harkin has introduced S. 1469, the Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility Closure Act, which would mandate the closure of the facility within 120 days. The practice of “indefinite detention,” which allows detainees to be held as long as a military conflict is taking place, and the lack of due process at Guantanamo have come to symbolize something which will not be resolved simply by closing the facility. Simply moving detainees elsewhere without addressing the underlying human rights and legal issues is insufficient.

The Reform Movement has long been a vocal advocate against US-sponsored torture and a staunch protector of due process. In 2003, in a resolution on striking the proper balance between civil liberties and national security the Union re-affirmed our longstanding commitment to the “constitutional principle of due process for citizens and non-citizens alike” and in 2005 the Union went one step further, clarifying its commitment to the Jewish principle that we are all created in the divine image, b’tzelem elohim and therefore must categorically “denounce and oppose the use of torture.” These beliefs, based both on our tradition and our history, teach us that while we must remain committed to providing law enforcement with the tools necessary to combat terrorism at home and abroad, we remain equally committed to preserving the principles and ideals that the terrorists want to destroy.

THEREFORE, the Commission on Social Action resolves to:

  1. Promote judicial and legislative efforts to permanently close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

  1. Continue to advocate for Constitutional guarantees of fair procedures including the protection of habeas corpus in U.S. military tribunals and for access of detainees to federal courts.

  1. Support efforts to end the policy of “indefinite detention” currently employed by the US government which allows individuals to be held without being charged and without being made aware of the evidence against them; and

  1. Call on Congress and the Administration to provide the funds necessary to both prosecute and defend those held at Guantanamo or any future detention facility.

  1. Encourage Union congregations to educate and advocate on behalf of measures that incorporate the goals of this resolution.

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