The U.S. Justice Department yesterday asked for an emergency stay of a federal judge’s ruling that struck down clauses of the National Defense Authorization Act as unconstitutional.
Princeton journalist Chris Hedges and other activists and writers sued the Obama administration last winter, saying a portion of the law signed by Obama was so broad that it infringed on their first-amendment rights as writers, activists and journalists. Hedges, for example, interviews people with ties to terrorist groups in the Middle East in his capacity as an investigative reporter.
Federal Judge Katherine Forrest agreed last week that the law was overly broad and vague.
Calling the case unprecedented, the U.S. Justice Department argued in a 42-page brief filed yesterday in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit that the judge’s ruling striking down homeland battlefield provisions of the act would hurt the government’s ability to fight wars overseas. The act authorizes the indefinite military detention of U.S. citizens deemed to have “substantially supported” al Qaeda, the Taliban or associated forces.
The Obama administration argued that Hedges and the other plaintiffs in the case have no legal standing and that the district court “has taken it upon itself to disagree with an interpretation of the military’s detention authority that had previously been endorsed by all three branches of government.”
Although the government previously would not say whether provisions of the act could potentially apply to Hedges and other journalists, in the most recent court filing government officials claimed it would not apply.
“This is a suit brought by a handful of journalists and activists who, based on their stated activities, are in no danger whatsoever of ever being captured and detained by the U.S. military,” wrote government lawyers. “The injunction is improper and it, along with the accompanying threat of contempt proceedings, interferes with active military operations and was entered in a law suit where the plaintiffs suffer no harm.”
Hedges, who is represented by Princeton lawyers Bruce Afran and Carl Mayer, has vowed to keep fighting the act that strips citizens of due process, and allows them to be detained in military facilities, including offshore penal colonies.
“The decision to vigorously fight Forrest’s ruling is a further example of the Obama White House’s steady and relentless assault against civil liberties, an assault that is more severe than that carried out by George W. Bush,” wrote Hedges in his most recent Truthdig column. “Obama has refused to restore habeas corpus. He supports the FISA Amendment Act, which retroactively makes legal what under our Constitution has traditionally been illegal—warrantless wire tapping, eavesdropping and monitoring directed against U.S. citizens. He has used the Espionage Act six times against whistle-blowers who have exposed government crimes, including war crimes, to the public. He interprets the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force Act as giving him the authority to assassinate U.S. citizens, as he did the cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. And now he wants the right to use the armed forces to throw U.S. citizens into military prisons, where they will have no right to a trial and no defined length of detention.”
Hedges urges people to read Forrest’s 112-page ruling. “It is a chilling explication and denunciation of the massive erosion of the separation of powers,” he said. “It courageously challenges the overreach of Congress and the executive branch in stripping Americans of some of our most cherished constitutional rights.”