[New York, NY] Today as congress prepares to vote on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) a federal judge has handed down a ruling that would prohibit the enforcement of two highly controversial sections within the NDAA should it pass.
The 68 page ruling handed down by the newly-appointed NYC Federal Judge Katherine Forrest issues a preliminary injunction barring the enforcement of section 1021 (the section subjecting apprehended targets to indefinite military detention) and moreover facially challenges that the language in the section itself is unconstitutional. Judge Forrest’s ruling is being championed by journalists and activists as a tremendous victory for civil liberties, due process and human rights.
The ruling came as part of a lawsuit filed by attorneys Bruce I. Afran and Carl J. Mayer on behalf of 7 high-profile plaintiffs including former New York Times war corespondent Chris Hedges, Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, celebrated writer and linguist Noam Chomsky, Icelandic parliamentarian Birgitta Jonsdottir, Jennifer “Tangerine” Bolen founder of the activist media group RevolutionTruth, Occupy London activist Kai Wargalla, and Alexa O’Brien founder of the web campaign “US Day of Rage.” Each of the plaintiffs in the Hedges v. Obama lawsuit share a common narrative that their constitutionally protected work, either in activism or in journalism would be chilled by the over-broad provisions set forth under the NDAA.
“Judge Forrest has splendidly defended the Constitution—which has been under almost continuous attack by the Bush and Obama administrations—by abrogating the NDAA, the latest assault on the First and Fifth Amendments. It’s a great day for all who want to live in a free society!” says Daniel Ellsberg, plaintiff in the case.
“There is a strong public interest in protecting rights guaranteed by the First Amendment,” judge Forrest wrote. “There is also a strong public interest in ensuring that due process rights guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment are protected by ensuring that ordinary citizens are able to understand the scope of conduct that could subject them to indefinite military detention.”
“I spent many years in countries where the military had the power to arrest and detain citizens without charge,” said plaintiff Chris Hedges “I have been in some of these jails. I have friends and colleagues who have ‘disappeared’ into military gulags. I know the consequences of granting sweeping and unrestricted policing power to the armed forces of any nation.”
Hedges v. Obama quickly became a multi-plaintiff action with the help of Jennifer Bolen who sought out candidates whose otherwise constitutionally protected activities could be the subject of judicial overreach under the NDAA. “I initiated this multi-plaintiff lawsuit because we have witnessed the government use the war on terror as an excuse to steadily destroy the rights guaranteed by the US Constitution,” said Bolen “Today was an amazing victory—perhaps the most encouraging ruling against the US government in years— already it has given a lot of people hope. This is only the beginning, but now we know we can win.” Judge Forest, upon hearing the testimony of the plaintiffs Bolen selected, determined that some had already changed their associative conduct protected under the first amendment. Seeing that the NDAA’s inability to identify actors already had an impact on the plaintiffs conduct further influenced Forest’s ruling.
“Section 1021 tries to do too much with too little – it lacks the minimal requirements of definition and scienter that could easily have been added, or could be added, to allow it to pass constitutional muster,” Forrest wrote.
“This is a victory in a case that many have regarded as having no prospect of success. Let this victory be a message to everyone, not only in the US, but around the globe – to be encouraged to stand up and speak out in the fight for our freedoms and rights. To not give up. To not be silenced. We will win in the end. This is just the beginning,” said Occupy London organizer and plaintiff Kai Wargalla.
“Through the action of a few individuals we managed to turn the tables in the favor of a world we all choose to live [in], a world that honors in action and by law freedom of expression and speech. With the ruling of Judge Forrest the USA might have a [chance] to reclaim the important role of setting the global standards for freedom of information and speech, ” said Icelandic parliamentarian Birgitta Jonsdottir.
“No nation on earth ever found just or stable governance in vague laws with secret interpretations. No executive can ever claim independence or strength when their office is owned by entrenched and corrupt factions, who use financial power to change laws to make themselves richer and silence dissent. Government’s independence derives from its dependence on the people alone. Those are our principles. I am very happy with the Judge’s ruling today. It’s not over yet,” said plaintiff Alexa O’Brien of US Day of Rage.
The actions in the courtroom were complimented by a groundswell of grassroots support from activists mobilized largely through the internet. “More than 50,000 Revolution Truth and Demand Progress members have signed up as grassroots supporters of the lawsuit, and nearly 250,000 Demand Progress members have urged Congress to end indefinite detention. We hope this injunction will serve as a wake up call to Congress, make it clear just how egregious was the inclusion of indefinite detention in last year’s NDAA, and get them to strike that language during today’s vote.” said David Segal, Executive director at Demand Progress a grassroots campaign that will bring nearly 300,000 signatures of supporters speaking out against indefinite detention to congress today.
This grassroots effort was largely made possible by volunteers like Lucas Vazquez, a Student Activist and Organizer with Occupy Wall Street. When asked about yesterday’s ruling Lucas had this to say, “I volunteered to work on the NDAA lawsuit because I feel a responsibility as an activist and Occupier to challenge the government’s unconstitutional and expanded powers to target the activist community, among many other groups, through the broad and undefined language in section 1021.” For other volunteers like Andy Stepanian, who coordinated media relations for the lawsuit and once served a federal prison sentence for his activism, the effort was personal. “Having served time in federal prison alongside other political detainees the legal challenge to the NDAA’s indefinite detention provisions is a deeply personal battle for me,” said Stepanian “I hope that judge Forrest’s ruling will open a door for examinations of the over-broad Material Support for Terrorists Statute, the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, and other intentionally vague designer statutes.”
A call-in press conference will take place at 10am EST on Friday May, 18th, 2012 to allow members of the press to speak with the plaintiffs and the legal team, to request a dial-in number & pin for the call please email Andy Stepanian at andy[at]sparrowmedia[dot]net. Judge Forrest’s ruling is available in it’s entirety HERE. You can read or print a copy of the plaintiffs lawsuit HERE and the text of the NDAA in its entirety is available HERE. For more information on the case and it’s plaintiffs please visit www.stopNDAA.org