AJC has consistently advocated a broad, multifaceted response to global and domestic threats of terrorism, including enactment of legislation that is at once mindful of preserving civil liberties, of giving law enforcement authorities the tools to apprehend terrorists, and, to the maximum extent feasible, of preventing the commission of such crimes. Even before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, AJC had been at the forefront of efforts to seek a balance between concern for civil liberties and due process, with the need to strengthen national security protections.
The events of September 11, 2001, have raised issues that require a delicate balance and vigilance to ensure that the measures necessary to strengthen law enforcement's ability to combat terrorism will also honor the constitutional protections that have made our nation a bastion of democratic values.
PATRIOT Act and FISA
AJC's dual concerns for civil liberties and national security were expressed in our support for passage of the PATRIOT Act in 2001 as a way to strengthen U.S. anti-terrorism laws, even as we called for ongoing monitoring of the implementation of the Act and endorsed the inclusion of sunset provisions so as to ensure that civil liberties are sufficiently guarded. Later, AJC supported the Security and Freedom Ensured (SAFE) Act, bipartisan legislation that was intended to amend provisions of the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism ("PATRIOT") Act of 2001 to address civil liberties concerns. The act would have placed reasonable limits on the authority given to law enforcement under the PATRIOT Act, without materially hindering their ability to investigate and prevent terrorism.
Similarly, even as AJC commended Congress for passing the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 (H.R.6304), a measure overhauling the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in an effort to assure that US surveillance capabilities did not fall behind the technological curve, AJC also acknowledged that serious concerns that had been raised as to the balance drawn in the bill in protecting national security interests and preserving civil liberties, and therefore called for “appropriate oversight and judicial review.
Detention of Unlawful Enemy Combatants
AJC has also taken a position on the detention of American citizens classified as "unlawful enemy combatants" and filed amicus briefs with the U.S. Supreme Court in cases challenging their detention, as well as that of the Guantánamo detainees. In those briefs, AJC asserted that striking the appropriate balance between national security and civil liberty requires allowing detainees access to counsel and to the courts.
In June 2004, AJC hailed the Supreme Court's pronouncement that those detained in the war on terror have the right to counsel and access to the courts. While recognizing the importance of allowing the government the appropriate powers to protect American citizens from those who might wish to harm us, the court preserved the constitutional due process safeguards that make America worth defending. The court's decisions represent a reasonable compromise that takes into account the competing values at stake in these perilous times.
Read AJC's briefs challenging the detention of enemy combatants:
AJC has long supported tough anti-terror measures that are consistent with respect for human rights and civil liberties. AJC is unequivocally opposed to the use of torture by interrogators representing our nation, and has supported legislative efforts to impose that principle. AJC applauded President Obama’s action soon after taking office in banning the use of torture and requiring the CIA to comply with the Army Field Manual on interrogation, as well as setting a new course on detention.
In response to President Bush's order regarding the establishment of military tribunals for those accused of terrorism, AJC has called for the inclusion of due process protections, including the right of the accused to choose legal counsel and to be informed of the charges against him. In January 2006, AJC joined in a coalitional brief filed with the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, a constitutional challenge to the prosecution of detainees at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base before such tribunals. In the brief, AJC objected to the procedures employed by the tribunals, arguing that they violate the right of the accused to be present at trial and to confront the witnesses against him, even while he stands trial for his life.
Protecting Civil Rights and National Security
In another challenge arising out of the need to protect our national security in a fashion consonant with our historic national values, AJC has emphasized that, even as we must not hesitate to identify and confront the very real threat of the Islamic extremist ideology and its purveyors that imperils our nation’s security, we must also be ever-vigilant against discrimination—avoiding rhetoric that smacks of stereotyping members of a particular faith and avoiding actions that amount to discrimination against, much less persecution of, members of a faith group based on their identity or beliefs, or on the illegal actions of a few.
For this reason, on two occasions in March 2011, AJC submitted testimony to Congress making this point. One statement, by Yehudit Barsky, Director of AJC’s Division on Middle East and International Terrorism, submitted in connection with a hearing by the House Committee on Homeland Security on homegrown violent Islamic extremism, stressed the danger violent extremists pose to American Jews. The other statement, submitted by Richard Foltin, AJC Director of National and Legislative Affairs, to the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights, focused on protection of the civil rights of the Muslim American community. Taken together, the statements expressed AJC’s insistence that our nation protect the civil rights of all Americans while also confronting a specific, identifiable threat.
National Standards for State Driver's Licenses and Identification Cards
Following the September 11th terrorist attacks, public discussion began about the need for a national identification system in the U.S., including increased security, modernization and standardization of licenses and identification cards across state boundaries. AJC endorses the development of minimum national standards for use by each state for the issuance of state driver's licenses and identification cards, including the documentation required for a license. At the same time, AJC emphasizes the importance of protecting personal privacy in both the development and implementation of such national standards.
In order to address the problem that millions of Mexican citizens reside in the U.S. without a secure method of identification, the Mexican government has been issuing an identification card called the Matrícula Consular that contains a photograph and includes anti-counterfeiting technology. Recognizing Mexico's unique relationship with the United States, AJC supports the use of the Matrícula Consular by Mexican nationals in the United States as a form of official identification for obtaining health care services, performing financial transactions, entering office buildings, dealing with law enforcement, and education purposes. However, for security reasons, AJC does not support the card as a breeder document to obtain an American driver's license or other state-issued identification card.
Security of High-Risk Non-Profit Institutions
The "High-Risk Non-Profit Security Enhancement Act of 2004" was introduced in Congress in order to protect non-profit institutions that are at a high risk of being a target for international terrorist attacks, threatening "the lives and well being of American citizens who operate, utilize, and live or work in proximity to such institutions." The bill is aimed at providing assistance to high-risk nonprofits, generally, and is not specifically targeted at funding religious organizations. The nature of these threats is so extraordinary, and the vast costs associated with seeking to safeguard against those threats are such that AJC endorsed the Act in June 2004.