A federal judge Wednesday reaffirmed First Amendment rights in preventing the government from enforcing a vague law that would allow it to detain Americans indefinitely without trial.
U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest issued a permanent injunction barring the government for enforcing a controversial provision of the National Defense Reauthorization Act that would have permitted the government to lock up people who substantially or directly provide support to al-Qaida, the Taliban or other terrorist organizations.
Judge Forrest found the law flawed on several counts, but mainly because it failed to define what constituted substantial or to define what activities could lead to military detention.
That is no small question bandied about amongst lawyers and a judge steeped in arcane questions of constitutional law, she said, It is a question of defining an individuals core liberties.
Could a newspaper article favorable to the Taliban be considered substantial support?
How about a YouTube video? Where is the line between what the government would consider journalistic reporting and propaganda? she asked. Who will make such determinations? Will there be an office established to read articles, watch videos and evaluate speeches in order to make judgments along a spectrum of where the support is modest or substantial?
Judge Forrest rejected the governments suggestion that American citizens can be placed in military detention, indefinitely, for acts they could not predict might subject them to detention.
Bruce Afran, the plaintiffs attorney, praised the ruling as an absolute guarantee of freedom of political debate even in time of war.
Coincidentally, the House on Wednesday approved a five-year extension of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, first enacted in 2008. It allows the government to monitor conversations of foreigners and suspected terrorists abroad but still requires approval from a secret court if Americans are involved. Opponents object that there are not sufficient protections for constitutional rights.
The FISA extension and the court ruling highlight the difficulty Americans are still having 11 years after 9-11 to ensure their security while preserving their constitutionally guaranteed civil liberties.