- Posted May 17, 2012 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Part of Controversial Anti-Terror Law Struck Down
A portion of a controversial anti-terrorism law enacted last year has been struck down as a violation of the 1st Amendment by a federal judge. The law in question is the National Defense Authorization Act.
Journalists brought the suit noting that they could be subject to indefinite detention without benefit of constitutional protections because of dealing with contacts in Europe and elsewhere in the world which could trigger the law. The journalists pointed out that an individual could be arrested and detained without even knowing that the person on the other end of correspondence was involved or under watch for terrorist activity.
A judge on Wednesday struck down a portion of a law giving the government wide powers to regulate the detention, interrogation and prosecution of suspected terrorists, saying it left journalists, scholars and political activists facing the prospect of indefinite detention for exercising First Amendment rights.
U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest in Manhattan said in a written ruling that a single page of the law has a "chilling impact on First Amendment rights." She cited testimony by journalists that they feared their association with certain individuals overseas could result in their arrest because a provision of the law subjects to indefinite detention anyone who "substantially" or "directly" provides "support" to forces such as al-Qaida or the Taliban. She said the wording was too vague and encouraged Congress to change it.
"An individual could run the risk of substantially supporting or directly supporting an associated force without even being aware that he or she was doing so," the judge said.
She said the law also gave the government authority to move against individuals who engage in political speech with views that "may be extreme and unpopular as measured against views of an average individual.
"That, however, is precisely what the First Amendment protects," Forrest wrote.
She called the fears of journalists in particular real and reasonable, citing testimony at a March hearing by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Christopher Hedges, who has interviewed al-Qaida members, conversed with members of the Taliban during speaking engagements overseas and reported on 17 groups named on a list prepared by the State Department of known terrorist organizations. He testified that the law has led him to consider altering speeches where members of al-Qaida or the Taliban might be present.
He said: "Ever since the law has come out, and because the law is so amorphous, the problem is you're not sure what you can say, what you can do and what context you can have."
Hedges was among seven individuals and one organization that challenged the law with a January lawsuit. The National Defense Authorization Act was signed into law in December, allowing for the indefinite detention of U.S. citizens suspected of terrorism. Wednesday's ruling does not affect another part of the law that enables the United States to indefinitely detain members of terrorist organizations, and the judge said the government has other legal authority it can use to detain those who support terrorists.
Attorney Carl Mayer, speaking for plaintiffs at oral arguments earlier this year, had noted that even President Barack Obama expressed reservations about certain aspects of the bill when he signed it into law.
After the ruling, Mayer called on the Obama administration to drop its decision to enforce the law. He also called on Congress to change it "to make it the law of the land that U.S. citizens are entitled to trial by jury. They are not subject to military detention, policing and tribunals, all the things we fought a revolution to make sure would never happen in this land."
The government had argued that the law did not change the practices of the United States since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and that the plaintiffs did not have legal standing to sue.
The portion struck down has been a bone of contention and scathing rebukes and comments by those on both the right and the left. No one was happy with the provision. Many saw this as government over reach.
From the Cornfield, will this land in the Supreme Court or will the Administration of President Barack Obama back off his support of the full provisions of the law?