Journalist's Suit Against Indefinite Domestic Military Detention Wins In Federal Court

A crusading journalist scores a big win for civil liberties in federal court.

A federal judge permanently threw out a key part of the National Defense Authorization Act on Thursday as part of a lawsuit brought by journalist Chris Hedges and others who claimed that they could be held in indefinite military detention because they interviewed suspected terrorists.

According to a report by Charlie Savage in The New York Times, "Judge Katherine B. Forrest of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York issued a permanent injunction barring the government from relying on the defense authorization law to hold people in indefinite military detention on suspicion that they “substantially supported” Al Qaeda or its allies — at least if they had no connection to the Sept. 11 attacks."

Savage noted that the injunction--a major civil liberties victory--came as the U.S. House voted to extend parts of anotehr federal law for five years that allow warrentless wiretaps. Taken together, he said the actions show how the domestic debate on anti-terror policies is far from settled. Writing about the court order, Savage said:

"The new statute went beyond covering the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks to also cover people who were part of or substantially supported Al Qaeda, the Taliban or associated forces engaged in hostilities against the United States or its allies. Its enactment was controversial in part because lawmakers did not specify what conduct could lead to someone’s being detained, and because it was silent about whether the statute extended to American citizens and others arrested on United States soil.

"It was challenged by Chris Hedges, a journalist who interacts with terrorists as part of his reporting, and by several prominent supporters of WikiLeaks. They argued that its existence chilled their constitutional rights by creating a basis to fear that the government might seek to detain them under it by declaring that their activities made them supporters of an enemy group."

Progressive civil liberty advocates praised the ruling.

Shahid Buttar, executive director of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, said in a press release, "Judge Forrest's decision enjoining the NDAA's detention provisions is a rare example of our system of checks & balances actually working. Other courts should heed this important example and, like Judge Forrest, do their jobs and closely scrutinize overreaching laws and executive abuses to defend constitutional rights."

Marjorie Cohn, Professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and former president of the National Lawyers Guild, said in the same release, "Just as the House voted to extend the FISA Amendments Act, that strengthens the government’s ability to spy on us, a federal judge permanently blocked enforcement of the section of the National Defense Authorization Act that permits indefinite detention... Judge Katherine B. Forrest ruled that the provision is 'unconstitutionally overbroad' because it 'purports to encompass protected First Amendment activities,' and it also violates the Fifth Amendment. This is an example of the judicial branch fulfilling its constitutional duty to check and balance overreaching by the other branches of government."




AlterNet / By Steven Rosenfeld

Posted at September 13, 2012, 11:07am

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