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Judge blocks part of domestic anti-terrorism law

A federal judge's ruling temporarily prevents enforcement of a provision of the National Defense Authorization Act, which critics say poses a threat to political activism and news reporting.

May 17, 2012|Bloomberg News

A New York federal judge temporarily blocked enforcement of a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act that opponents contend could subject them to indefinite military detention for political activism, news reporting or other 1st Amendment activities.

U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest in Manhattan ruled Wednesday in favor of a group of writers and activists who sued President Obama, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and the Defense Department.

Obama signed the bill into law Dec. 31. The complaint was filed Jan. 13 by a group including former New York Times reporter Christopher Hedges. Plaintiffs contend that a section of the law allows detention of citizens and permanent residents taken into custody in the U.S. on "suspicion of providing substantial support" to people engaged in hostilities against the country, such as Al Qaeda.

"The statute at issue places the public at undue risk of having their speech chilled for the purported protection from Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated forces — i.e., foreign terrorist organizations," Forrest wrote in her ruling. "The vagueness of Section 1021 does not allow the average citizen, or even the government itself, to understand ... what conduct comes within its scope."

Forrest's injunction prevents enforcement of the provision pending further order of the court or action by Congress.

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