Commentary: Judge Rightly Rules Against Detaining-Without-Charges Law

U.S. District judge strikes down the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) as unconstitutional and urges Congress to amend the law.

Posted: 05/18/2012 04:29 PM EDT

U.S. Military Police guard Taliban and Al Qaeda detainees January 11, 2002, in a holding area at Camp X-Ray at Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, under the National Defense Authorization Act.  (Photo: Petty Officer 1st class Shane T. McCoy/U.S. Navy/Getty Images)

In January, I wrote a commentary decrying the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), entitled "A Dark Cloud Looms Over Our Democracy." The law was created to give the U.S. government the legal means to fight terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda.

On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest, in Manhattan, declared certain portions of the law unconstitutional. According to Forrest, the law was vague and left journalists, scholars and political activists prone to indefinite detention for exercising their First Amendment rights. She also urged congress to rewrite the law.

According to the Tenth Amendment Center’s website, sections 1021 and 1022 of the NDAA grants the government unprecedented police powers when it comes to detaining indefinitely people who are suspected of being terrorists or aiding terrorists.

Under NDAA, the military has sweeping authority to transfer terrorist suspects from civilian to military custody. Under military jurisdiction, terrorist suspects can be detained indefinitely and interrogated intensely. They could also be tried in a military tribunal where basic civil rights we value as U.S. citizens are glibly jettisoned in the interest of national security.
The Act also allows the government to detain indefinitely anyone who substantially supports and/or directly provides support to terrorist organizations. Because the law is so vague, it can be used to detain American journalists who interview someone that the government has declared a terrorist or an American intellectual and political activist who happens to disagree with our country’s foreign policy, think Martin Luther King’s opposition to the Vietnam War.

Judge Forrest’s recent ruling places the burden of rewriting the NDAA so that it safeguards Americans’ rights squarely in the Congressional court. It is in the best interest of our country’s democracy that Congress heeds the good judge’s advice.



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