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By Miriam Raftery

May 19, 2012 (San Diego’s East County) – A federal judge has ruled that section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 is unconstitutional, violating the First Amendment of the Constitution by having a chilling effect on free speech.

The clause allowed the U.S. military to arrest and indefinitely detain anyone—even U.S. citizens—for providing substantial support to terrorist groups.  Civil libertarians opposed the clause and journalists filed suit, arguing that the definition was so vague that reporters and political activists feared they could be indefinitely detained.

Katherine Forest, U.S. District Judge in New York, made the ruling on Wednesday. Government lawyers had tried to argue that the plaintiffs lacked standing to sue, but Judge Forest found that they did. 

The plaintiffs include Chris Hedges, Pulitzer Prize winner and former New York Times foreign correspondent. Hodges said he feared detention if he interviewed sources in the Middle East.  Alexa O’Brien, a Wikileaks supporter, said she withheld publication of interviews with Guantanamo detainees due to fear of the new law.

Others cited fears that activist groups such as the Occupy movement or even some environmentalists could be deemed terrorist organizations that might subject members to rendition for indefinite detention. 

Among San Diego’s Congressional representatives, Duncan Hunter, Brian Bilbray,  Darrell Issa and Susan Davis voted for the NDAA.  (Bob Filner did not vote.)  Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein also voted for the measure, which provided funding for U.S. military operations. 

On Thursday, following the Judge’s ruling, Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) introduced an amendment to remove the indefinite detention language. Congresswoman Susan Davis voted for the amendment, but Duncan Hunter, Brian Bilbray, and Darrell Issa voted against removing the indefinite detention clause.  The amendment failed by a 182-283 vote.

The Judge’s ruling is subject to appeal.


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