Human Rights

A shameful day for America

Yesterday the Senate approved a bill which gives the President the power to decide which methods of torture are OK to use, and which denies detainees one of the most fundamental rights of all in our legal system, the right to habeas corpus.  CNN’s coverage is here.

I have spoken in the past about there is no denying that the "harsh interrogation techniques" the Bush Administration uses are torture, and such treatment is contrary to both secular law and Jewish law.  See my sermon from last year on the subject by clicking here.

Habeas corpus may seem a little obscure to people who don’t remember the concept from their high school civics classes.  Basically, habeas corpus says that if you have been imprisoned you have a right to petition a court to review whether you are being held legally.  Without habeas corpus, you can be kept in jail indefinitely, until the people holding you decide they want to bring you to court.  Habeas corpus was codified into law in England in the 17th century, although it had been used for a few centuries before that.  It was seen as very important step to limit the power of the king to arbitrarily lock people up and throw away the key.  And here we are handing our "king," George II, the power to do just that.

It outrages me that the Bush Administration has decided they can totally ignore the rules of the Geneva Convention by inventing a new category, "illegal combatants."  Declare someone an "illegal combatant" the Administration says, and you don’t have to follow Geneva Convention "niceties" like not torturing them, or allowing them to communicate with their families.

The lack of will power among our politicians on this issue is appalling.  As reported by Polimom, quoting Glenn Greenwald reports Arlen Specter gave a great speech about what’s wrong with the bill:

"During the debate on his amendment, Arlen Specter said that the bill sends us back 900 years because it denies habeas corpus rights and allows the President to detain people indefinitely. He also said the bill violates core Constitutional protections. Then he voted for it."

Maher Arar’s case provides a shameful example of what can happen when habeas corpus is ignored.  Despite being a Canadian citizen, when his plane landed in New York he was denied access to a lawyer and was shipped to Syria, where he was tortured for ten months before finally being released.

Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, begins Sunday night. On Monday we will read the words of Isaiah who said "Is such the fast that I have chosen? A day for a man to afflict his soul? Is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the Lord?  Is not this rather the fast that I have chosen? to loose the chains of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?"  By passing this bill, Congrss has given much power to the chains of wickedness.

Our politicians are afraid of appearing "soft on terrorism."  Maybe some of them could realize that opposing this bill, and the horrible things it represents, is not being soft on terrorism.  It’s being firm on the rights and principles upon which America was founded. 

I’ve spent way too much time writing this when I’ve still got preparations for Yom Kippur to complete.  But this is too important an issue to be silent about.

G’mar chatimah tovah (may you be sealed for a good year),

Reb Barry

Barry Leff

Rabbi Barry (Baruch) Leff is a dual Israeli-American business executive, teacher, speaker and writer who divides his time between Israel and the US.

2 thoughts on “A shameful day for America

  • Jerry Feldberg

    I read your above comments and was disgusted by them. The safety and security of America is at stake in the War or Terrorism. You place more concern the alleged treatment of terrorists than you do on the lives of your fellow Americans.

    Your words may just as well have come from the Radical Left Wing of the Democratic Party. It is shameful that the party of HST and JFK has been taken over by the far left.

    Need I remind you that Ariel Sharon called President Bush, “the greatest friend Israel has ever had” or that this same radical left opposed restocking Israel’s “Smart Munitions” used in the recent war with Hezbollah?

    You are “outraged that the Bush Administration has decided they can totally ignore the rules of the Geneva Convention by inventing a new category, “illegal combatants.” You know full well that the Geneva Convention has not been ignored. This is a new world and new thinking is required. Would you rather terrorists be called “Nationalist Crusaders? What do you call the terrorists of Hezbollah and Hamas when they bomb schools and buses? I know Israel doesn’t call them “Nationalist Crusaders.”

    It would serve our country and the Jewish people much more if you defended our country that than tear it down.

  • Why is it that those who support Bush assume that anyone opposed to torture and the cancellation of human rights is soft on terrorism? I certainly do not think Hezbollah or Hamas should be called “Nationalist Crusaders.” They are terrorists, and they should be hunted down and stopped.

    It’s not that I’m soft on terrorists. It’s that I’m very strict on human rights. America has faced all sorts of threats before. The Geneva Convention certainly has been ignored. Bush has explicitly said the Geneva Convention does not apply to people picked up in the “war on terror.” I find that repulsive.

    Bush seems to feel that we cannot win the war on terror while remaining true to the principles of individual liberty freedom from government oppression that America was founded on.

    Bush is wrong. America is stronger than that. America’s recent actions embarass me, and don’t leave me feeling any safer.

    Reb Barry


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