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Monday, July 15, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Critics of Indefinite Detention Gain Traction

MANHATTAN (CN) - A hearing to block the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, which allows the U.S. military to indefinitely detain, without charge or trial, anybody accused of planning or supporting terrorism anywhere in the world, may occur as early as Thursday, a federal judge ruled.

President Barack Obama signed the legislation, colloquially known as the Homeland Battlefield Bill, into law on New Year's Eve.

Two weeks later, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges filed a lawsuit against Obama and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, claiming that the law threatens reporters with life imprisonment for interviewing people whom the United States classifies as terrorists.

The case lay dormant until last week, when U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest - an Obama appointee - said there is no indication Hedges served the defendants in the case.

Hedges' lawyers must give the defendants 72-hours' notice before seeking a temporary restraining order, which the parties may argue as early as Thursday, she said.

The Demand Progress political action committee announced the possible intervention in the case by several noted experts, including Noam Chomsky of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Pentagon Papers source Daniel Ellsberg and Icelandic Parliamentarian Birgitta Jonsdottir. These rumors remain unconfirmed.

Critics of the law should not hold their breath for a legal victory, according to the Bill of Rights Defense Committee.

"It is a hopeless case for lots of reasons," committee executive director Shahid Buttar said in a phone conference, explaining that the judge could toss the case for lack of standing or governmental state-secrets privilege.

"We can't sue or click our way out of this problem," Buttar said. "It's going to have to be a movement of millions to re-assert and restore the principles that have long made this country great."

Bruce Fein, a former Justice Department official under President Ronald Reagan, agreed with Buttar's prognosis during the phone conference. He added, nevertheless, that the lawsuit could be a "useful educational vehicle" to draw public and media attention.

"The media is preoccupied, candidly, with drivel," Fein said. "A lawsuit at least has a sense of drama to it."

Fein serves as a legal adviser to the presidential campaign of Ron Paul, the Republican congressman who is prominent critic of the NDAA but was absent when the bill came to a vote.

Participants in the conference focused on how to oppose the bill on the local level.

Bill Dwight, a Democratic city councilor from Northampton, Mass., spoke about how his city became the first in the nation to pass a symbolic resolution against the NDAA.

"It snowballed and communities in New York and Los Angeles followed our lead," Dwight said.

Two Republican U.S. representatives for Washington state, Matt Shea and Jason Overstreet, passed House Bill 2759, prohibiting local and state forces from complying with the NDAA.

"How is it that we can have local elected officials and state elected officials who can see this act clearly for what it is, and we have only a handful of congressmen and senators that do?" Overstreet said during the conference.

Peggy Littleton, the Republican commissioner of El Paso County, joined the call from an Air Force base where she reported many soldiers are alarmed about the law.

"They can't imagine being put in a position to take away a person's habeus corpus rights," Littleton said.

Naomi Wolf, a noted feminist author who now writes for the Guardian, applauded the politicians and organizers participating in the conference for reaching across ideologies and party lines.

The call marked a peculiar alliance of organizers from the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, a civil libertarian group sparked in opposition to the Patriot Act, and the Tenth Amendment Center, a think tank with a "state's rights" orientation, more traditionally embraced by conservatives.

"I'm delighted that organizations from across the political spectrum are uniting on this," Wolf said. "It's our only hope."

In her book "The End of America," Wolf proposed that there are 10 steps to the subversion of democracies.

NDAA represents the final step outlined in the book, "Suspend the rule of law," she told reporters.

"Once governments can take people in without charge or trial, journalists aren't safe," she said. "Union leaders aren't safe. Clergy aren't safe. Activists aren't safe. Nobody's safe."

Other governments likely would follow suit, Wolf warned.

"When America abandons its historic role as a benchmark for human rights and democracy, all bets are off," Wolf said.

Mark Regev, a spokesman for the Israeli Army, cited U.S. law to justify the indefinite detention of suspected Palestinian militant Khader Adnan, Wolf noted.

Adnan won his freedom after his 66-day hunger strike sparked international outrage about his confinement, which Israel insisted was necessary for public safety.

Fein, who once worked for the traditionally conservative American Enterprise Institute, blasted the notion of pitting safety against civil liberties.

"The NDAA is part of this larger culture of seeking a risk-free existence by destroying freedom and liberty everywhere, and having a juvenile thrill of a nation able to tell anybody, any time, any place, that they have to do anything the United States tells them to do at the point of a bayonet, or at the end of a predator drone," Fein said. "What is international law today?" he asked later. "It's exactly what we say it is."

Without a temporary restraining order, the NDAA will go into effect on Saturday, according to an article Hedges wrote for Truthdig.com.

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