Protecting America’s Promise

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Junaid S. Ahmad



The 2007 joint National Association of Muslim Lawyers (NAML) and
NationalMuslimLawStudentsAssociation (NMLSA) conference took place
on 9-11 November in San Francisco. Both NAML and NMLSA are rapidly
growing organizations with many young Muslim students now deciding to
enter the legal profession, a field in which they have been historically underrepresented.
This year’s theme, “Protecting America’s Promise,” could not
have been more appropriate.
The conference was kicked off by an electrifying talk by Jameel Jaffer,
co-author of Administration of Torture: A Documentary Record from Washington
to Abu Ghraib and Beyond (Columbia University Press: 2007) and
director of the ACLU’s National Security Program. He detailed the manner
in which the Bush administration has implemented a systematic program of
torture since 9/11, and how it has done this without significant challenge
from the other two branches of government: Congress and the judiciary.
The first plenary session, which addressed the topic of “Investigating
and Prosecuting Terrorism Cases: Seeking Justice while Upholding Constitutional
Principles,” focused on the tension between bringing alleged terrorists
to justice and upholding core constitutional rights and protections,
including the accused’s rights to counsel, a speedy trial, and to confront the
evidence presented by the plaintiff. The second plenary session, “The Impact
and Legality of U.S. CounterterrorismPolicies Overseas,” discussedwhether
the United States has accurately framed the terror threat and how its policies
have inflamed or diminished that threat. The session also explored the legality
and effectiveness of arbitrary detention, torture, extraordinary rendition,
and other counterterrorism policies.
The various parallel sessions throughout the conference addressed a
myriad of topics germane to the legal profession in general, as well as to
Muslims and the law in particular. In a session entitled “Leveraging Legal
Resources for the Benefit of the Muslim American Community: A Training
Session for Lawyers,” attendees learned some of the basic laws and challenges
facing Muslim Americans from experienced criminal defense and
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