A federal judge in Manhattan has blocked enforcement of provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that allow the government to place individuals they claim supported al Qaeda, the Taliban or "associated forces" in indefinite military detention.
"Before anyone should be subjected to the possibility ofindefinite military detention, the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment requires that individuals be able to understandwhat conduct might cause him or her to run afoul of [the law]," wrote District Judge Katherine Forrest. "Unfortunately, there are a number of terms that are sufficiently vague that no ordinary citizen can reliably define such conduct."
Forrest ruled that Congress "can add definitional language to the statute and resolve the issues the plaintiffs have raised" and "resolve the issues with the statute and proceed with enforcement activities it deems fit." But for now, there are "a variety of other statutes which can be utilized to detain those engaged in various levels of support of terrorists," so enjoining enforcement of the provisions "does not divest the Government of its many other tools."
President Barack Obama signed the law in December despite his objections to its military detention provisions. The administration later issued guidelines in February that essentially made it nearly impossible for a terrorism suspect to end up in the hands of the military.
Forrest said that the plaintiffs in the suit -- described by Reuters as civilian activists and journalists who feared being detained under the law -- were likely to succeed on the suit's merits.
"This Court is acutely aware that preliminarily enjoining an act of Congress must be done with great caution," Forrest wrote. "However, it is the responsibility of our judicial system to protect the public from acts of Congress which infringe upon constitutional rights."