A one-paragraph provision in the sprawling National Defense Authorization Act, signed by President Obama Dec. 31, 2011, enables the Pentagon to detain suspected al-Qaida or Taliban members, members of "associated groups" and anyone who has "substantially supported" them until the "end of hostilities" against the terror groups.
A group of prominent journalists and academics including Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges, MIT professor and writer Noam Chomsky and Pentagon Papers source Daniel Ellsberg, having dubbed themselves the "Freedom Seven," sued the government. Courthouse News Service notes Hedges told U.S. District Court Judge Katherine Forrest he could have been held under the law's broad provisions for detaining people associated with terrorists.
Several in the group testified to Forrest that the law forced them to change how they worked, with whom they spoke and who they met. The judge said the testimony convinced her the law has had a "chilling effect" on free speech.
"Courts must safeguard core constitutional rights," she wrote in a decision released Wednesday. "A long line of Supreme Court precedent adheres to that fundamental principle in unequivocal language. Although it is true that there are scattered cases -- primarily decided during World War II -- in which the Supreme Court sanctioned undue deference to the executive and legislative branches on constitutional questions, those cases are generally now considered an embarrassment."