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Journalists, Activists Challenge NDAA Law

Chris Hedges, Noam Chomsky, among the plantiffs involved in the case

- Common Dreams staff

A group of prominent activists and journalists presented a legal challenge to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) yesterday, claiming to a New York City federal judge that the law inhibits their First Amendment Rights.

Chris Hedges, Noam Chomsky and Daniel Ellsberg are among the seven plaintiffs on the case. They argued the law, which includes controversial provisions authorizing the military to jail anyone it considers a terrorism suspect anywhere in the world, without charge or trial. Critics say the the law is written in a way that it could put journalists who report on terror-related issues at risk for detention for supporting enemy forces.

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The Guardian: US anti-terrorism law curbs free speech and activist work, court told

A group political activists and journalists has launched a legal challenge to stop an American law they say allows the US military to arrest civilians anywhere in the world and detain them without trial as accused supporters of terrorism.

The seven figures, who include ex-New York Times reporter Chris Hedges, professor Noam Chomsky and Icelandic politician and WikiLeaks campaigner Birgitta Jonsdottir, testified to a Manhattan judge that the law – dubbed the NDAA or Homeland Battlefield Bill – would cripple free speech around the world.

They said that various provisions written into the National Defense Authorization Bill, which was signed by President Barack Obama at the end of 2011, effectively broadened the definition of "supporter of terrorism" to include peaceful activists, authors, academics and even journalists interviewing members of radical groups.

Controversy centres on the loose definition of key words in the bill, in particular who might be "associated forces" of the law's named terrorist groups al-Qaida and the Taliban and what "substantial support" to those groups might get defined as. Whereas White House officials have denied the wording extends any sort of blanket coverage to civilians, rather than active enemy combatants, or actions involved in free speech, some civil rights experts have said the lack of precise definition leaves it open to massive potential abuse.

Hedges, who is a Pulitzer Prize-winner and longtime writer on the Middle East, told New York judge Katherine Forrest on Thursday that he feared he might be subject to arrest under the terms of NDAA if interviewing or meeting Islamic radicals could constitute giving them "substantial support" under the terms of the law.

"I could be detained by the US military, held in a military facility – including offshore – denied due process and incarcerated until 'the end of hostilities' whenever that is," Hedges said. He added that the law was already impacting his ability to work as he feared speaking to or meeting with sources who the US government could see as terrorists or advocates of violence.

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The International Business Times: NDAA Lawsuit Seeks Preliminary Injunction Against ‘Unprecedented Threat To Civil Liberties’

Noam Chomsky, Daniel Ellsberg and Icelandic parliament member Birgitta Jonsdottir are among the seven witnesses expected to testify in a New York federal court on Thursday in support of a class action lawsuit against the United States government over controversial provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), a military spending bill they claim threatens American's civil liberties and basic human rights.

U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest will hear arguments for a preliminary injunction against certain sections of the legislation, which was signed into law on Dec. 31. Buried in the otherwise mundane budget and expenditure bill is a provision under Section 1021 of the law that permits the indefinite military detention, without a formal charge or public trial, of anyone suspected of participating in or aiding a terrorist organization "engaged in hostilities against the United States."

Although the bill explicitly states the military detention provision does not apply to U.S. citizens, but only American al-Qaeda members overseas, some critics fear the language could eventually be interpreted to apply to all citizens, something Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., said would be an "unprecedented threat to our constitutional liberties."

In December, Udall proposed an amendment to the bill that would have struck down the section authorizing the president to use "all necessary and appropriate force" to detain people suspected of terrorism. The effort was defeated in a 60 to 38 vote.

Author Chris Hedges, a former New York Times war correspondent, filed the lawsuit -- known as Hedges v. Obama -- against what he says are the law's "Homeland Battlefield" provisions , which he believes could allow for the indefinite detention of journalists who report the views of groups the U.S. government considers to be terrorists.

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