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Statement On Due Process and the Guantanamo Prisoners
Rev. Dr. Robert W. Edgar, General Secretary, National Council of Churches USA
March 8, 2004, Washington, D.C.

Today the U.S. government is holding hundreds of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay who have not been charged with crimes and who have been denied access to U.S. courts. Almost completely isolated, they are probably unaware that their case has brought us here to stand in front of the Supreme Court. We have not been able to learn much about them either. We certainly donít know who among them may be innocent, who may be guilty.

But we are not here to make any claims about their guilt or innocence. We are here because the principle of due process under the law also is being held prisoner on Guantanamo. We are determined to protect and defend this fundamental right. Without it, no one can be assured of fair treatment under the law. Without it, any one could be arbitrarily stripped of the human dignity that God confers on all people.

For nearly two years, Guantanamo detainees have been denied due process. We stand now with family members of the detainees, representatives of the Guantanamo Human Rights Commission, and others asking that the prisoners be charged and afforded an opportunity to defend themselves, or released for lack of evidence, as each individual case warrants.

To that end, the National Council of Churches, on January 14, joined many other religious, legal and human rights organizations in filing an amicus brief in this case. Today, with these and other organizations we continue to challenge the startling and dangerous assertion that the United Statesí government can sidestep judicial review while holding people outside our nationís sovereign territory. The attempt to create a land beyond the law, where people are without rights, is troubling in the extreme. We may have a no-fly zone over Washington, but we should not have a no-legal zone anywhere.

The National Council of Churches hopes to hold our government to the principles of the U.S. Constitution and to the provisions of international law. We are shocked that leaders of our nation would abandon one of the core principles that has made our democracy a beacon of freedom in the world.

We also are concerned for the humanitarian treatment of prisoners everywhere, including the Guantanamo detainees. In light of that concern, in December of 2003 the National Council of Churches requested permission of Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld and John Ashcroft to take an interfaith delegation to Guantanamo to monitor the physical, mental and spiritual condition of the detainees. We were denied, but today we are renewing our request, in a letter to President George W. Bush.

The National Council of Churches has said that the denial of rights that inhere in the worth of human beings before God are not only a crime against humanity. They are a sin against God. All faiths share this basic teaching, a fact that is reflected in the broad interfaith nature of a series of events that will be held in Washington and New York City over the next few days and that are aimed at securing the right of due process for prisoners on Guantanamo. All persons are connected in the family of God. My rights, your rights and the rights of the detainees are inseparable.

-end-

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