Federal Judge Halts Indefinite Detention of Suspects without Trial

Friday, September 14, 2012
Judge Katherine Forrest

A new law authorizing indefinite detention of terrorism suspects, including American citizens, has been permanently blocked by a federal judge.


U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest this week followed up on her earlier ruling in May, when she issued a preliminary injunction denying the Obama administration the power to enforce a key provision of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). President Barack Obama had signed the bill into law on New Year’s Eve, barely two months after Forrest, an Obama appointee, assumed office.


One paragraph in particular, Section 1021(b)(2), allows the U.S. military to hold anyone accused of having “substantially supported” al-Qaeda, the Taliban or “associated forces” until “the end of hostilities.”


Forrest said the U.S. Department of Justice was unable to define several of these phrases, making it impossible for her to lift the injunction.


“There can be no doubt, then, these terms are vague,” the judge wrote, referring to “associated forces,” “substantially supported” and “directly supported.”


Seven plaintiffs, known as the Freedom Seven, filed suit to stop the NDAA provision from being implemented. They included journalist Christopher Hedges, MIT professor Noam Chomsky and Pentagon Papers source Daniel Ellsberg.


Forrest wrote that “A key question throughout these proceedings has been…precisely what the statute means—what and whose activities it is meant to cover. That is no small question bandied about amongst lawyers and a judge steeped in arcane questions of constitutional law; it is a question of defining an individual’s core liberties.”


She added that “the Government argues that even if plaintiffs have standing, this Court should essentially ‘stay out of it’—that is, exercise deference to the executive and legislative branches and decline to rule on the statute’s constitutionality. In particular, the Government argues that the fact that the statute relates to military detention during a time of war both justifies § 1021(b)(2) breadth and requires judicial deference. The Court rejects that argument…. This Court rejects the Government’s suggestion that American citizens can be placed in military detention indefinitely, for acts they could not predict might subject them to detention, and have as their sole remedy a habeas petition adjudicated by a single decision-maker.”

-David Wallechinsky, Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Judge Strikes Indefinite Detention Law (by Adam Klasfeld, Courthouse News Service)

Judge Rules Against Law on Indefinite Detention (by Charlie Savage, New York Times)

Christopher Hedges v. Barack Obama (U.S. District Court, Southern New York) (pdf)

Federal Judge Blocks Obama’s Right to Impose Indefinite Detention without Trial (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)

Obama Signs into Law Indefinite Detention of Americans without Trial (by David Wallechinsky and Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


jack 11 years ago
It is difficult to understand why the American people let our fundamental rights to be stripped away at the whim of government. It sickens me! I want this to change, as I'm sure many others do... But how?
yarply 11 years ago
Bravo for the gesture. I doubt that will actually put a stop to anything. But thumbs up anyhow

Leave a comment