Military Detention Law Blocked by U.S. Judge in New York

A federal judge permanently blocked enforcement of a U.S. law that opponents claim may subject them to indefinite military detention for activities including news reporting and political activism.

U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest in Manhattan today ruled that the law, passed as part of the National Defense Authorization Act for 2012, is unconstitutionally vague.

“Here, the stakes get no higher: indefinite military detention -- potential detention during a war on terrorism that is not expected to end in the foreseeable future, if ever,” Forrest wrote in a 112-page opinion today. “The Constitution requires specificity -- and that specificity is absent” from the law.

Forrest made permanent a preliminary injunction against the law that she ordered in May, ruling today that the statute violates rights guaranteed by the First, Fifth and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The government is appealing Forrest’s May order.

Ellen Davis, a spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in Manhattan, declined to comment on the ruling.

The suit was filed Jan. 13 by a group including former New York Times reporter Christopher Hedges. The plaintiffs contend that Section 1021(b)(2) of the law allows for detention of citizens and permanent residents taken into custody in the U.S. on “suspicion of providing substantial support” to groups engaged in hostilities against the U.S. such as al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

Authorized Detention

The plaintiffs claim the law is vague and can be read to authorize their detention based on speech and associations that are protected by the Constitution.

Forrest today said that Hedges and four other plaintiffs “testified credibly to having an actual and reasonable fear that their activities will subject them to indefinite military detention” under the law.

Forrest said that Justice Department lawyers failed to adequately explain terms in the legislation that she said are ambiguous.

“Could a news article taken as favorable to the Taliban, and garnering support for the Taliban, be considered to have ‘substantially supported’ the Taliban?” Forrest wrote. “How about a YouTube video?”

In her opinion, Forrest invited the U.S. Congress to consider amending or repealing Section 1021 to avoid conflicting with the Constitution.

The case is Hedges v. Obama, 12-cv-00331, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).