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Joint NCC/CWS Statement on the U.S. Domestic Response to Terrorism

By the Rev. Robert W. Edgar, General Secretary, National Council of Churches
And the Rev. John L. McCullough, Executive Director, Church World Service
December 20, 2001

The wounds of September 11 and its aftermath have not yet healed.  As Christians, we find comfort and meaning as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Prince of Peace.  Yet the deep sense of loss, pain, anger, fear and vulnerability of these past months lingers.  Our hearts break for all the families whose New Year will begin in sadness, their loved ones lost.  We continue to hold in prayer the families, friends and colleagues of all the victims, as well as all those survivors who now suffer physical and emotional pain.  We claim God’s promise that all who mourn will not feel separated from God’s love, but will be comforted.  (Matthew 5:4)

We are resolved to respond to the dreadful deeds of September 11 – and profoundly concerned that we answer wisely, with restraint, in ways that will advance peace and justice for all who share this planet.  We lament the loss of life in any nation because every person is precious and unique in God’s sight.  “We believe that no nation can feel secure by itself if others are insecure,” our General Assembly resolved on November 15 in its statement, “Out of the Ashes and Tragedy of September 11, 2001.”  “Similarly, military security does not ensure economic security. Nor can there be true security without adequate food, water, health care, sanitation, or shelter. The challenge for those who seek justice and peace is to reinforce the intimate connections between economic, political, cultural and physical security.”

In an interfaith statement entitled “Deny Them Their Victory: A Religious Response to Terrorism,” we resolved, “We must not allow this terror to drive us away from being the people God has called us to be.”  Nearly 4,000 Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist and other religious leaders now have signed the statement, which was published on September 12. 

In “Deny Them Their Victory,” we asserted “the vision of community, tolerance, compassion, justice and the sacredness of human life, which lies at the heart of all our religious traditions.”  America must be a safe place for all its people in all their diversity, we said, adding that it is especially important that people who share “national origins, ethnicity or religion with whoever attacked us are, themselves, protected among us.”

A safe place for all its people.  Yes, but how?  How, without compromising our legitimate need for security?  How, without throwing away the fundamental freedoms and principles we value as a nation?   That is – at least it should be – the subject of broad debate in our land.  Our nation should model the rights and behaviors that we would hope to see throughout the world.  If it does not, we should speak up loudly and clearly and say so.

That is why we feel it is essential to express our deep concern at a number of measures being taken up by the Administration in its domestic response to terrorism.   Since September 11, people especially of the Muslim faith and of Middle Eastern and Central and Southern Asian background have been the targets of investigations and arrests.  Many long-term residents and their family members, among them many U.S. citizens, are suffering because of the Attorney General’s resolve to detain and prevent the release of “aliens” who, because of their ethnic background, are seen as possibly posing a threat to national security.

In particular, we are alarmed at:

  • The expansion of the Justice Department’s powers to detain non-citizens without identifying who has been arrested, what charges have been filed against them and where they are being held, and to keep them behind bars even after a federal immigration judge has ordered release for lack of evidence.  This will most certainly result in indefinite detentions.
  • The proposed military tribunals for alleged terrorists.  The possibility of secret evidence, the potential lack of due process and the lack of independent review even of a death sentence have the potential to undermine legal rights under our Constitution.  We claim that our justice system is among the best in the world.  Let’s use our laws and courts fully.  Let’s let the system work.
  • The proposal that visa applications and immigration status will be expedited for individuals who provide information to authorities about terrorist activities.  American citizenship is too important to become a commodity that is “sold."

“We believe that the rule of law must be administered fairly, so as to safeguard and protect civil liberties, even in a time of external threat,” our annual General Assembly said in its November 15 statement, “Out of the Ashes and Tragedy of September 11, 2001.”  The Assembly called on “the U.S. government and other governments to ensure the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms and to treat all people with dignity, respect and tolerance irrespective of religion, race, ethnicity or color.”

On December 5, a coalition of 16 civil liberties rights organizations filed a lawsuit against the government demanding that officials identify who has been arrested, what charges have been filed against them and where they are being held.  We join them in calling for that information in the belief that we live in a society that must not allow its law enforcement to act in virtual secrecy.

Furthermore, we ask families whose loved ones are missing and believed to be among the arrested to contact us (e-mail jmaruski@ncccusa.org).  We will help seek information on their whereabouts.  We also call on Attorney General Ashcroft for help in locating missing persons who have been caught in the broad net that is being thrown over especially people of the Muslim faith and of Middle Eastern and Central and Southern Asian background in response to the events of September 11.

Some characterize criticisms of the Administration’s domestic and international response to terrorism as “un-American” and unpatriotic.  The right of open debate is a part of our nation’s legal and cultural heritage, a strength not a weakness.  As patriotic Americans, we hold our democratic freedoms dear.  When we see our government behaving in a manner that seems contrary to upholding the principles of liberty and justice for all, we, whose faith is based on the law of love, are moved to speak out of our love of our country, to call for justice for all people, and to deny the terrorists their victory by refusing to submit to a world created in their image.

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