Federal Judge In New York Blocks Indefinite Detention of Americans Temporarily
Plaintiff Jennifer “Tangerine” Bolen speaks to reporters during a news conference outside the Federal Court in Manhattan March 29, 2012 (Reuters / Mike Segar)
A US federal judge has temporarily blocked a section of the controversial National Defense Authorization Act that allows for the indefinite military detention of US citizens.
In a 68-page ruling, US District Judge Katherine Forrest agreed on May 16th that the statute failed to “pass constitutional muster” because its language could be interpreted quite broadly and eventually be used to suppress political dissent.
“There is a strong public interest in protecting rights guaranteed by the First Amendment,” Forrest wrote, according to CourtHouseNews.Com. “There is also a strong public interest in ensuring that due process rights guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment are protected by ensuring that ordinary citizens are able to understand the scope of conduct that could subject them to indefinite military detention.”
The Manhattan judge therefore ruled in favor of a group of writers and activists who sued US officials, including President Barack Obama. They claimed that the act, which was signed into law on December 31, makes them fear possible arrest by US armed forces.
Among those who filed the complaint, Bloomberg reports, was former New York Times reporter Christopher Hedges. According to the journalist, NDAA would allow federal authorities to hold him in custody just for interviewing individuals who were detained on “suspicion of providing substantial support” to people engaged in hostilities against the US.
The order by Judge Forrest prevents the enforcement of the statute provision, pending further order of the court or an amendment to the statute by the US Congress.
Congress Still Okay With Indefinite Detention and Torture of Americans
Even after a federal court deemed the NDAA unconstitutional, the US House of Representatives refused to exclude indefinite detention provisions from the infamous defense spending bill during a vote on Friday 18 May.
An attempt to strike down any provisions allowing for the US military to indefinitely detain American citizens without charge from next year’s National Defense Authorization Act was shot down Friday morning in the House of Representatives.
Following discussions on an amendment to the 2013 NDAA that was proposed by Rep. Adam Smith (D-Washington) and Rep. Justin Amash (R-Michigan), House lawmakers opted against passing the law by a vote of 182-238. Had the Smish-Amash amendment passed, military detention for terror suspects captured in the US would have been excluded in the annual defense spending bill. Provisions that allows for that power, Sections 1021 and 1022, were inserted into the NDAA for Fiscal Year 2012. President Barack Obama signed that legislation on New Year’s Eve, essentially authorizing the US Armed Forces to detain Americans indefinitely at military facilities over only allegation of ties with terrorists and subject them to enhanced interrogation tactics on par with torture.
On Thursday night, Rep. Amash took to his Facebook page to address the amendment with his followers. “No matter how much I am slandered or my positions are demagogued, I will NEVER stop fighting to defend your liberty and the Constitution,” wrote the congressman.
Back on Capitol Hill, Rep. Amash circulated a document to his fellow lawmakers on Thursday outlining his proposed amendment. In urging his colleagues to vote yes on the Smith-Amash amendment, the representative from Michigan explained to Congress that the proposal would offer protection to non-citizens of the United States and is the only amendment up for discussion that would guarantee Americans a charge and trial.
Elsewhere in the paper, Rep. Amash harped on a decision out of a federal court earlier this week that ruled that the NDAA violated the US Constitution.
“Our constituents demand that we protect their right to a charge and a trial — especially after the NDAA was ruled unconstitutional this week,” wrote Rep. Amash.
That decision came Wednesday when United States District Judge Katherine Forrest shunned the NDAA’s indefinite detention provision, saying it had a “chilling impact on First Amendment rights.”
“An individual could run the risk of substantially supporting or directly supporting an associated force without even being aware that he or she was doing so,” wrote Judge Forrest, who then cited complaints for American journalists who were concerned that they’d be imprisoned without charge solely for speaking with alleged terrorists.
Attorney Carl Mayer represented the plaintiffs in this case and spoke with RT after Judge Forrest’s decision. Mr. Mayer revealed that while the Obama administration can — and most likely will — file an appeal, “we are suggesting that it may not be in their best interest because there are so many people from all sides of the political spectrum opposed to this law.”
Although that opposition has indeed been widespread since even before this year’s NDAA was signed by President Obama on December 31, it was absent on Capitol Hill this Friday when the Smith-Amash amendment was shot down.
Moments before the amendment went up for vote, Rep. Amash wrote on Facebook, “We know the NDAA’s detention provision is unconstitutional. The House will vote on one substantive solution.”
A Federal Judge ruled on Wednesday 16 May that the indefinite military detention of American citizens, as allowed in the National Defense Authorization Act that President Barack Obama signed on December 31, 2011, is unconstitutional.
For now, American citizens will be excluded from the NDAA’s nasty laws that allow the government to detain persons with suspected ties to terrorist groups behind bars without ever pressing charges. Civilians the world over still face persecution, however, as the controversial legislation continues to allow for their imprisonment.
United States District Judge Katherine Forrest declared this week that the NDAA’s indefinite detention provision has a “chilling impact on First Amendment rights” and formally struck down the section of the legislation that allows for the government to imprison Americans for only supposed terrorist ties. Unless the law is further challenged, though, those outside the US still face the wrath of Uncle Sam for having only suspected links with anti-American forces.
Chris Hedges, a reporter with a career that spans stints with outlets such as National Public Radio and The New York Times, added his name to a lawsuit earlier this year challenging the legality of the NDAA. He was among the journalists and civilian activists who were instrumental in challenging the legislation in a court of law.
“I have had dinner more times than I can count with people whom this country brands as terrorists,” Hedges wrote earlier this year, “but that does not make me one.”
In her ruling this week, Judge Forrest appears to agree, writing, “In the face of what could be indeterminate military detention, due process requires more.”
“An individual could run the risk of substantially supporting or directly supporting an associated force without even being aware that he or she was doing so,” she added.
Although Judge Forrest’s ruling this week is without a doubt a milestone in terms of revoking the NDAA, her efforts are but only a start in terms of terminating the legislation. It does not rule out the possibility that the Obama administration will appeal her decision, either. Attorney Carl Mayer represented the plaintiffs in this case and tells RT that, although he expects the White House to appeal, “we are suggesting that it may not be in their best interest because there are so many people from all sides of the political spectrum opposed to this law that they ought to just say, ‘We’re not going to appeal.'”
In the meantime, though, Mayer says that Judge Forrest’s ruling is a major victory for American civil liberties.“The NDAA cannot be used to pick up Americans in a proverbial black van or in any other way that the administration might decide to try to get people into the military justice system. It means that the government is foreclosed now from engaging in this type of action against the civil liberties of Americans.”
For now, more than 6 billion citizens of foreign nations can still be handcuffed and hauled away to a military prison without ever being brought to trial. This week’s decision may protect Americans from that provision, but unfortunately does nothing to spare both foreign reporters and civilians from a life of imprisonment.
Hedges himself applauded the ruling, calling it “a tremendous step forward for the restoration of due process and the rule of law,” reports the Associated Press.
“Ever since the law has come out, and because the law is so amorphous, the problem is you’re not sure what you can say, what you can do and what context you can have,” added Hedges.
The judge’s ruling comes, coincidentally, at the same time that the US House Armed Services Committee has passed next year’s National Defense Authorization Act. Congress is expected to begin voting on amendments for next year’s NDAA as early as this this week, but during Wednesday’s opening debates it was revealed that indefinite detention is already included once again in the bill.
Presidential hopeful and congressman, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), has signed his name to an amendment proposed by Rep. Adam Smith (D-Washington) and Rep. Justin Amash (R-Michigan) that will shoot down the indefinite detainment of anyone in the next NDAA.
“Hopefully we can be successful this week in clarifying this to make sure once and for all that we as a people don’t endorse the whole notion —which contradicts everything we should believe in — that we could be arrested and put in secret prisons,” said Rep. Paul.
“If we don’t change this, believe me, this country is in serious trouble.”