Update| By Katie Rucke
President Barack Obama signed into law a $633 billion defense bill on Wednesday, despite protests from human rights advocates that the bill would prevent him from closing Guantanamo Bay, which was something he pledged to do during his campaign.
Obama initially threatened to veto the bill because of the clause prohibiting the transfer of terror detainees from the Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba to the U.S. for any purpose, but Congress called his bluff.
The 2013 version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), among many other things, authorizes funding for the war in Afghanistan, increases security at diplomatic missions worldwide, tightens sanctions against Iran, increases funding for special forces and requires a report from the Obama administration on ways to keep Syrian President Bashar Assad from using air power against civilians.
In a statement regarding the bill, Obama wrote, “I continue to oppose this provision, which substitutes the Congress’s blanket political determination for careful and fact-based determinations, made by counterterrorism and law enforcement professionals, of when and where to prosecute Guantanamo detainees.
“This provision would, under certain circumstances, violate constitutional separation of powers principles. In the event that these statutory restrictions operate in a manner that violates constitutional separation of powers principles, my administration will implement them in a manner that avoids the constitutional conflict,” he added.
Oct. 3, 2012 Update | By Martin Michaels
On Tuesday, an appeals court overturned a previous ruling that blocked the indefinite detention clause of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Appeals court judges Denny Chin, Raymond Lohier and Christopher Droney sided with the Obama administration, declaring that the military has a right to detain U.S. citizens suspected of having ties to terrorist organizations. The judges, however, tried to assuage fears held by opponents of the NDAA by stating, “Based on their stated activities, plaintiffs, journalists and activists … are in no danger whatsoever of ever being captured and detained by the U.S. military.”
Sept. 19, 2012 Update | By Martin Michaels
An emergency petition filed earlier this week by President Obama halted a ruling that permanently blocked the indefinite detention clause of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The Obama administration issued a statement saying previous legal challenges blocking the NDAA “Homeland Battlefield Bill” are a threat to U.S. national security. A major proponent of the NDAA, Obama has promised not to use the indefinite detention provision against U.S. citizens suspected of terrorism, vowing to uphold First Amendment rights and due process of law.
Sept. 18, 2012 Update | By Martin Michaels
The Department of Justice filed an appeal Monday on behalf of the Obama administration challenging a recent court ruling that permanently struck down the indefinite detention provision of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Judge Katherine Forrest ruled last week that the “Homeland Battlefield Bill” would harm First Amendment rights and due process of law because of broad powers to detain U.S. citizens without charge if they are suspected of having connections to terrorist organizations.
The Justice Department claims that the court has overstepped its legal jurisdiction and unjustly restricted the president’s power as commander in chief of the armed forces. Chris Hedges, the main plaintiff in the case, claims in an op-ed that the recent appeal by the Obama administration could pave the way for a future legal battle in the U.S. Supreme Court.
(MintPress) — On Wednesday, a New York Federal judge issued an injunction to permanently block the indefinite detention provision of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The ruling by Judge Katherine Forrest concluded a six-month legal challenge by journalists and prominent academics calling for an end to the arbitrary detention of U.S. citizens without charge.
While supporters of the legal action celebrated the ruling, the Obama administration could choose to appeal, or ignore the ruling altogether. However, free speech activists believe that the case will set an important legal precedent, sending a clear message to the White House and the Congress: Civil liberties cannot be sacrificed for national security interests.
Upholding due process and legal rights
The ruling vindicates the plaintiffs in the case, journalist Chris Hedges, Naomi Wolff and professor Noam Chomsky among others, who launched the suit in late March.
Opponents take issue with the legality of section 1021 of the 2012 NDAA, the “Homeland Battlefield Bill,” positing that it is illegal to suspend due process of law and arbitrarily detain a U.S. citizen suspected of “substantially supporting” a terrorist organization at home or abroad.
This assertion was validated Wednesday when New York Federal Judge Katherine Forrest chose to uphold previous court rulings, permanently striking down the controversial provision. Forrest stated in her ruling:
“First Amendment rights have already been harmed and will be harmed by the prospect of (the law) being enforced. The public has a strong and undoubted interest in the clear preservation of First and Fifth Amendment rights.”
The Obama administration challenged the ruling earlier this summer, believing that the court’s rejection of the Homeland Battlefield Bill only applies to Chris Hedges and the handful of co-plaintiffs named in the case. However, Judge Forrest later clarified the ruling, stating that the decision indeed applies to all U.S. citizens.
The action received robust support from a broad coalition of activists from across the political spectrum. Members of Occupy Wall Street, libertarian activists and some tea party groups supported the challenge in a rare overlap of right-left activist cooperation.
Stop the NDAA!, one of the largest citizen groups in support of the legal action, believes that the NDAA was too vague in the terms used to define how a citizen can be detained. The group added their support, stating online:
“In a nation where a number of laws passed since 9/11 have steadily undermined Constitutional protections, the 2012 NDAA has gone too far. Key provisions in this law contain language that is both broad and vague. We believe this vague language leaves many people, including journalists, war correspondents, outspoken activists and serious critics of US government foreign policy in real danger of harm and a fundamental loss of constitutionally guaranteed rights. We sued – and a federal judge agreed with us!”
A victory for free speech
The ruling also upheld the right of journalists, reporters and members of the media to interview sources without fear of arbitrary unlawful detention.
Hedges, a former columnist for the New York Times, believes that if the law was left unchecked, the NDAA would become “a totalitarian credo of endless war waged against enemies within ‘the homeland’ as well as those abroad.”
Like many foreign policy journalists, Hedges maintains contact with members of the Taliban, al-Qaida and other terrorist groups in the Middle East. Hedges and his cohort maintain that journalists must have an unimpeded right to speak freely with sources without fear of military reprisal.
However, if the NDAA were allowed to pass in its complete, unchallenged form, journalists could be detained indefinitely, without trial, for interviewing terrorists and individuals the U.S. government deems to be a threat to U.S. national security.
Naomi Wolf, a colleague of Chris Hedges and co-plaintiff in the case, commented on the reasons for her support of the legal challenge saying in a March op-ed:
“I have discussed the terms of the Homeland Battlefield Bill – also known as the National Defense Authorization Act – with numerous other journalists, writers, and members of democracy-supporting organizations across the political spectrum. I have also discussed the bill with various political leaders, including city council members and legislators, who span the political spectrum in the United States. They all agree that the bill can potentially affect an American journalist who meets with and publishes reports on individuals connected to organizations deemed terrorist by the United States government.”
Like Hedges, Wolf draws a clear distinction between supporting members of terrorist organizations and merely interviewing terrorists as a member of the media. The latter, as the court ruling confirms, is a constitutionally protected form of free speech and an essential function of a free and democratic press.