Latest Developments on Law of Indefinite Detention

On September 12, 2012, Judge Katherine B. Forrest of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York issued a permanent injunction barring the government from enforcing a statute authorizing the indefinite detention without trial of terrorism suspects. On September 17, 2012, Judge Raymond J. Lohier of the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit granted an interim stay until a panel of judges hold a hearing scheduled for September 28.

NAFUSA held a two hour panel in New York in 2010 on the prosecution of terrorism suspects and Charlie Savage of The New York Times moderated the panel. Two years later this issue has not gone away and Savage writes in The Times,

The United States has been detaining terrorism suspects indefinitely since 2001, relying on an authorization by Congress to use military force against perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks and those who helped them. Last year, Congress decided to create a federal statute that codified authority for such detentions.

The new statute went beyond covering the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks to also cover people who were part of or substantially supported Al Qaeda, the Taliban or associated forces engaged in hostilities against the United States or its allies. Its enactment was controversial in part because lawmakers did not specify what conduct could lead to someone’s being detained, and because it was silent about whether the statute extended to American citizens and others arrested on United States soil.

It was challenged by Chris Hedges, a journalist who interacts with terrorists as part of his reporting, and by several prominent supporters of WikiLeaks. They argued that its existence chilled their constitutional rights by creating a basis to fear that the government might seek to detain them under it by declaring that their activities made them supporters of an enemy group.

In May, Judge Forrest agreed, issuing a preliminary injunction barring the government from relying on the law to detain anyone without trial, and Wednesday she made that injunction permanent in a 112-page opinion.