Naomi Wolf writes: On Wednesday 16 May, at about 4pm, the republic of the United States of America was drawn back – at least for now – from a precipice that would have plunged our country into moral darkness. One brave and principled newly-appointed judge ruled against a law that would have brought the legal powers of the authorities of Guantánamo home to our own courthouses, streets and backyards.
US district judge Katherine Forrest, in New York City’s eastern district, found that section 1021 – the key section of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) – which had been rushed into law amid secrecy and in haste on New Year’s Eve 2011, bestowing on any president the power to detain US citizens indefinitely, without charge or trial, “facially unconstitutional”. Forrest concluded that the law does indeed have, as the journalists and peaceful activists who brought the lawsuit against the president and Leon Panetta have argued, a “chilling impact on first amendment rights”. Her ruling enjoins that section of the NDAA from becoming law.
In her written opinion, the judge noted that she had been persuaded by what the lead plaintiffs – who include Pulitzer prize-winner Chris Hedges of the Nation Institute, editor Jennifer Bolen of RevolutionTruth, Noam Chomsky, Daniel Ellsberg, co-founder of Occupy London Kai Wargalla, Days of Rage editor Alexa O’Brien, and the Icelandic parliamentarian and WikiLeaks activist Birgitta Jónsdóttir – had argued. In their testimonies (in court and by affidavit), these plaintiffs compiled a persuasive case that they had “standing” to sue because it was reasonable for them to worry that they could conceivably could be detained indefinitely under the section 1021 law because their work requires them to have contact with sources the US government might assert were “terrorists” or “associated forces” of al-Qaida.
The key claim made by the plaintiffs – of which Judge Forrest was persuaded – was that the language in section 1021 is so vague that it could sweep up anyone. The law fails to define or specify what “associated forces” or the concept of “substantial support” actually mean. [Continue reading…]
Glenn Greenwald writes: The ruling was a sweeping victory for the plaintiffs, as it rejected each of the Obama DOJ’s three arguments: (1) because none of the plaintiffs has yet been indefinitely detained, they lack “standing” to challenge the statute; (2) even if they have standing, the lack of imminent enforcement against them renders injunctive relief unnecessary; and (3) the NDAA creates no new detention powers beyond what the 2001 AUMF already provides.
As for the DOJ’s first argument — lack of standing — the court found that the plaintiffs are already suffering substantial injury from the reasonable fear that they could be indefinitely detained under section 1021 of the NDAA as a result of their constitutionally protected activities. As the court explained (h/t Charles Michael):
In support of their motion, Plaintiffs assert that § 1021 already has impacted their associational and expressive activities–and would continue to impact them, and that § 1021 is vague to such an extent that it provokes fear that certain of their associational and expressive activities could subject them to indefinite or prolonged military detention.
The court found that the plaintiffs have “shown an actual fear that their expressive and associational activities” could subject them to indefinite detention under the law,and “each of them has put forward uncontroverted evidence of concrete — non-hypothetical — ways in which the presence of the legislation has already impacted those expressive and associational activities” (as but one example, Hedges presented evidence that his “prior journalistic activities relating to certain organizations such as al-Qaeda and the Taliban” proves “he has a realistic fear that those activities will subject him to detention under § 1021″). Thus, concluded the court, these plaintiffs have the right to challenge the constitutionality of the statute notwithstanding the fact that they have not yet been detained under it; that’s because its broad, menacing detention powers are already harming them and the exercise of their constitutional rights.
Significantly, the court here repeatedly told the DOJ that it could preclude standing for the plaintiffs if they were willing to state clearly that none of the journalistic and free speech conduct that the plaintiffs engage in could subject them to indefinite detention. But the Government refused to make any such representation. Thus, concluded the court, “plaintiffs have stated a more than plausible claim that the statute inappropriately encroaches on their rights under the First Amendment.” [Continue reading…]