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YLS Professors and Students Draft Letter Criticizing Military Tribunals

Dateline: Wednesday, December 12, 2001.

A letter expressing concerns about the use of military tribunals was circulated among law school professors by a group of YLS faculty and students last week. In just two days, the letter picked up more than 300 signatures. The letter was then forwarded to Senator Patrick Leahy, who chairs the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary. But interest didn't end there. The letter continued to garner signatures, and by the end of the day today the number of signatures had surpassed 600.

The letter and lists of signatories can be viewed by clicking on the links below. Additional signatures will be added as they are tallied.

The purpose of the letter was to express concerns about President George W. Bush's order establishing military tribunals to decide the guilt and punishment of non-citizens suspected of terrorist activities. Judith Resnik, the Arthur Liman Professor of Law and one of the authors of the letter, said, "We hoped to get to Senator Leahy some commentary by law professors . . . who thought it very important to bring up the question of the necessity, the wisdom, and the legality [of the order]."

The letter was originally sent prior to Attorney General John Ashcroft's appearance before the judiciary committee last Thursday. But with the continuing influx of cosigners, the organizers at YLS decided to file an addendum before the committee's record closes on Thursday, December 13, at 6:00 p.m.

According to Harold Hongju Koh, the Gerard C. and Bernice Latrobe Smith Professor of International Law and one of the people who drafted the letter, "it has spoken for [the signers]. It's tapped in to a view deeply held by many that wasn't being clearly expressed in the public debate."

As second-year law student Elizabeth Brundige tells it, a number of students were upset by the President's order creating military tribunals, believing it to be threatening to civil liberties and possibly unconstitutional. However, "we didn't have much of a sense what we would do," she says.

This general interest in taking action coalesced when David Marcus '02 was sitting in the dining hall, reading a newspaper article about the tribunals. He began discussing it with Deena Hurwitz, associate director of the Schell Center for International Human Rights. Hurwitz reports that their first question was, "What if we do something?" and their immediate answer was, "Let's call a meeting for this afternoon."

The basic strategy of drafting a letter to Senator Leahy expressing reservations and criticisms of the order was formed in this council of a half dozen students and faculty members. According to Marcus, Professor Koh's input, as well as his experience as an assistant secretary of state in the Clinton administration, was invaluable to this step.

But another part of the plan was to get the letter to Senator Leahy before the attorney general's testimony, which left them only a few days to write, edit, and distribute it. Marcus worked with the basic points that had come out of the meeting to compose a first draft, laboring most of the night, and distributing it for comments by the morning.

After receiving a round of "substantial edits" and a separate letter written by Professor Resnik, Marcus says that his favorite part of the whole process was working with fellow students, Brundige, Cecily Baskir '02, and Tania Galloni '02, to come up with a final draft. They "picked over every word," until they were satisfied, and then received another round of review from the YLS faculty.

According to Brundige, all of the input and advice from faculty members gave the letter "a certain expert opinion that might not be available anywhere else." Despite the fact that the process of reaching a consensus among many authors made the letter a little more conservative than she might have liked, Brundige's main concerns remained. And she was "happily surprised and inspired" by how they reached agreement and how the letter has appealed to others.

Finally the letter was ready to go out. The various authors had decided that only lawyers and law professors should sign it, and Professors Resnik and Koh, as well as Paul Kahn, Robert W. Winner Professor of Law and Humanities and director of the Schell Center; Sterling Professor of Law Bruce Ackerman; James Silk, executive director of the Schell Center; and Deena Hurwitz--all of whom had played a role in its composition--were the first to affix their names. The letter was then circulated in an email to legal scholars across the country, as well as among friends and associates.

The email had innocently asked anyone interested in joining the letter to contact Marcus. The dizzying storm of responses engulfed him. "I didn't sleep from Monday to Wednesday," he says. "I just spent the whole time in the computer lab." He had to process emails coming in as fast as several each minute.

The overwhelming majority of respondents were eager to add their names to the growing list of signatories and excited about the opportunity to express their opinion to Senator Leahy. A few quibbled over language in the letter, and a few disagreed with its premise. Laura Dickinson, a professor at the University of Connecticut, said she signed the letter because she agreed with what it said and because "the tone was the right tone."

Judith Resnik hopes the letter will encourage "a deliberative process in which there is a consideration of other options [besides military tribunals]." Adds Resnik, "We should be as proud in displaying our commitments to fair process as we are in displaying our flag."

Related Documents:
Letter to Senator Patrick J. Leahy
Original Signers of Letter to Sen. Leahy
Additional Signers of Letter to Sen. Leahy
Additional Signers (2nd Addendum) of Letter to Sen. Leahy