The American Jewish Committee 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: Most recently, AJC's dual concerns for civil liberties and national security have been expressed in our support of the Security and Freedom Ensured (SAFE) Act, proposed bipartisan legislation that amends 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 places reasonable limits on the authority given to law enforcement under the PATRIOT Act, without materially hindering their ability to investigate and prevent terrorism. AJC supported the passage of the PATRIOT Act in 2001 as a way to strengthen U.S. anti-terrorism laws, so long as sunset provisions were included to ensure that civil liberties are sufficiently guarded.
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.
Military Tribunals: 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. Read AJC's brief in the Hamdan case.
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.
Security of High-Risk Non-Profit Institutions: The "High-Risk Non-Profit Security Enhancement Act of 2004" was introduced to 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.