by Randolph T. Holhut
Chief of AR Correspondents
May 25, 2012
FIGHTING FOR CIVIL LIBERTIES IN AN AGE OF REPRESSION
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- A major blow for freedom was struck last week when a federal court judge in Washington issued a preliminary injunction blocking a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that authorizes the military to jail anyone it considers a terrorism suspect anywhere in the world, without charge or trial.
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges was the plaintiff in the lawsuit filed in January, just a few weeks after the NDAA was signed into law by President Obama.
Hedges was joined in the suit by Noam Chomsky, Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, Icelandic parliamentarian Birgitta Jonsdottir, Occupy London organizer Kai Wargalla, journalist and activist Naomi Wolf, and independent journalist Alexa O'Brien, who founded U.S. Day of Rage, a group that coordinated a day of protests on Wall Street last September against the use of corporate money in elections.
They argued that, despite assurances that this law only applies to U.S. members of alleged terrorist organizations overseas, there is enough ambiguity in the law as written that the definition of "supporter of terrorism" in section 1021 of the NDAA also includes peaceful activists, authors, academics and journalists.
U.S. District Court Judge Katherine B. Forrest agreed. In her 68-page opinion, she wrote that the seven co-plaintiffs' fears that section 1021 could impact their First Amendment rights are "reasonable" and "real" and would have a "chilling" effect on the exercise of their freedoms.
"This Court is acutely aware that preliminarily enjoining an act of Congress must be done with great caution," wrote Forrest. "However, it is the responsibility of our judicial system to protect the public from acts of Congress which infringe upon constitutional rights ... In the face of what could be indeterminate military detention, due process requires more."
As Hedges wrote after the case, "The government lawyers, despite being asked five times by the judge to guarantee that we plaintiffs would not be charged under the law for our activities, refused to give any assurances. They did not provide assurances because under the law there were none. We could, even they tacitly admitted, be subject to these coercive measures. We too could be swept away into a black hole. And this, I think, decided the case."
But the fight isn't over. The federal government has the right to appeal the decision, and if the U.S. Court of Appeals upholds Forrest's decision, the case could go before the Supreme Court.
But Hedges and his co-defendants were able to defeat the government in court, even though they had only a fraction of the resources. That made this case a major victory of freedom.
That's because, as Hedges rightly pointed out, "This law was, after all, not about foreign terrorism. It was about domestic dissent."
"If the state could link Occupy and other legitimate protest movements with terrorist groups," he continued, "then the provisions in the NDAA could, in a period of instability, be used to 'disappear' U.S. citizens into military gulags, including the government's offshore penal colonies. And once there, stripped of due process, detainees could be held until, in the language of the law, 'the end of hostilities.' In an age of permanent war that would be a lifetime."
Criminalizing protest seems to be the goal. Between the heavy-handed police response to the various Occupy events this spring, and the growing reports of police personnel infiltrating and spying upon protest groups, it seems like the bad old days of COINTELPRO, the FBI's campaign to infiltrate and harass anti-war and civil rights groups in the 1960s, are back again.
Too many Americans have become conditioned to freak out whenever they hear the words "terrorist." That's why the easiest way to destroy Occupy and its allied groups is to tar them with the brush of terrorism.
Right after Hedges and his co-plaintiffs won their victory in federal court, the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatves voted on the 2013 version of the NDAA that includes the same indefinite detention language that was struck down by Judge Forrest.
And, in the run-up to last weekend's NATO summit in Chicago, police summarily and preemptively arrested several activists on trumped-up terrorism charges. You can be sure we're going to see more preemptive arrests and "terrorist" plots foiled by police in the coming weeks, and see more protesters clubbed and gassed like they were in Chicago over the weekend.
The 1 percent, and the politicians who protect them, want the people scared and confused. They want people to be too frightened to exercise their rights to free speech. That is how they stay in power.
The only way to fight these tactics is with truth, and constant vigilance.
Chief of AR Correspondent Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.