US court ruling in NY favors anti-terror law

NEW YORK (AP) - A federal appeals court in Manhattan has reversed a judge's decision barring enforcement of a law that permits the indefinite detention of people suspected of supporting terrorists.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued the ruling Wednesday in a lawsuit challenging the law that allows the U.S. government to detain anyone who "substantially" or "directly" provides "support" to radical forces, such as al-Qaida or the Taliban. The court found that the plaintiffs had no standing to bring the case in the first place.

In response to the decision, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, Bruce Afran, accused the appeals court of failing to address the merits of the case by instead reversing the lower court's decision on technical grounds. A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Manhattan had no comment.

The decision sent the case back to the district court to let the judge consider further proceedings. But Afran said it was unclear whether that would happen.

In a ruling last year, U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest found that the law was "unconstitutionally overbroad." She urged Congress to make it more specific so journalists, scholars, political activists and others would not worry that contacting enemies of the United States would put them in jeopardy of indefinite incarceration.

"First Amendment rights are guaranteed by the Constitution and cannot be legislated away," Forrest wrote. "This court rejects the government's suggestion that American citizens can be placed in military detention indefinitely, for acts they could not predict might subject them to detention."

The appeals court found that the plaintiffs who are U.S. citizens, including Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Christopher Hedges, "do not have standing to challenge the statute" because the relevant section "simply says nothing about the government's authority to detain citizens."

Other plaintiffs, including foreign political activists, also failed to show they had ground to fear the law, even though it "does have meaningful effect regarding the authority to detain individuals who are not citizens or lawful resident aliens," the appeals panel said.

Hedges has interviewed al-Qaida members, mixed with members of the Taliban during speaking engagements overseas and reported on 17 groups named on a list prepared by the State Department of known terrorist organizations. He testified that the law has forced him to consider altering speeches where members of al-Qaida or the Taliban might be present.

Government lawyers had argued that the fears of journalists and others were unfounded. They claimed that the 2011 statute simply reaffirms powers authorized by Congress after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

But Afran said the appeals court decision "follows a disturbing and dangerous trend in which the federal courts are refusing to address the merits of civil liberties cases. It sends a message that you can't go to court unless the military is knocking at your door ready to take you into custody."

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Top Stories

  • Failing
    So far, King County voters are rejecting higher car tab fees to save buses

  • Minimum Age Debate
    There's a push to raise the age from 18 to 21 in order to legally buy tobacco

  • Time for Change
    Shannon Drayer is expecting some changes after the Mariners' eighth straight loss
ATTENTION COMMENTERS: We've changed our comments, but want to keep you in the conversation.
Please login below with your Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or Disqus account. Existing MyNorthwest account holders will need to create a new Disqus account or use one of the social logins provided below. Thank you.
comments powered by Disqus
Sign up for breaking news e-mail alerts from
In the community
Do you know a student who stands out in the classroom, school and community?
Help make their dreams come true by nominating them for a $1,000 scholarship and a chance to earn a $10,000 Grand Prize. Brought to you by KIRO Radio and Comprehensive Wealth Management.

Do you know an exceptional citizen who has impacted and inspired others?
KIRO Radio and WSECU would like to recognize six oustanding citizens this year. Nominate them to be recognized and to receive a $2,000 charitable grant.