Testimony in a lawsuit against the United States government is set to begin tomorrow as multiple individuals challenge the Homeland Battlefield Act in a New York City federal court.
The lawsuit is being brought by individuals concerned that the work they engage in could now lead the government to accuse them of being an “associated force” of terrorists as a result of the new law that was signed by President Barack Obama on New Year’s Eve last year.
Those involved in pushing the lawsuit hope Judge Katherine B. Forrest will issue a temporary restraining order so the process of repealing parts of the law can begin. However, they understand such a development is probably unlikely.
The plaintiffs bringing the case against the Homeland Battlefield Act—more commonly known as the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA)—have been dubbed by their attorneys as the “Freedom Seven.” They include: Chris Hedges, a journalist; Daniel Ellsberg, who is known for releasing the Pentagon Papers; Noam Chomsky, a well-known writer; Icelandic MP Birgitta Jonsdottir; Tangerine Bolen, founder of RevolutionTruth.org; Kai Wargalla, deputy director of Revolution Truth and founder of Occupy London; and Alexa O’Brien, journalist and founder of US Day of Rage.
All have done work on civil liberties and human rights and are concerned that the law’s language is “dangerously vague” and grants the US government the power to “arrest any American citizen (or anyone, anywhere) without warrant and to indefinitely detain them without any charge.”
In particular, they call attention to Section 1021 of the law. This section defines a “covered person,” who could be subject to detention as “a person who was a part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or ‘associated forces’ that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners, including any person who has committed a belligerent act or has directly supported such hostilities in aid of such enemy forces.” What “substantially supported,” “directly supported,” or “associated forces” means is undefined. They see this as a tool that could be used to suspend due process for anyone deemed to have been involved in “hostilities against the United States.” And so, those behind the lawsuit conclude the Homeland Battlefield Act violates the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Eight Amendments of the US Constitution.
Bolen, who helped launch this lawsuit with multiple plaintiffs, says she felt prompted to sue the US government because of her work “defending WikiLeaks and Bradley Manning.” She also has hosted panels with Middle East revolutionaries and activists. “Given the language of the law under the NDAA,” she believes she could be accused of being an “associated force.”
“[It] caused a lot of fear and distress” in multiple activist communities when it passed last year, Bolen adds. “I saw this as an opportunity to seriously stand up and challenge” an egregious assault “on our civil liberties.”
O’Brien explains that she signed on as a plaintiff because she believes her work as a journalist and activist has made her a target of the United States government.
“Because of the passage of the Homeland Battlefield Act, which gives the government frightening new powers, I’ve had to curtail my journalism and activism,” she states.
As a founder of US Day of Rage, she has been subject to false allegations of connections to Al Qaeda that have deeply impacted her ability to conduct her work openly and freely. These allegations have been taken seriously by US government agencies.
Hedges, O’Brien and Wargalla are scheduled to testify in court tomorrow. They each had to be deposed by the government before the scheduled hearing.
Hedges described his deposition by assistant US attorney Benjamin H. Torrance, which took place in a “polite conference room”:
It is in conference rooms like this one, where attorneys speak in the arcane and formal language of legal statutes, that we lose or save our civil liberties. The 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force Act, the employment of the Espionage Act by the Obama White House against six suspected whistle-blowers and leakers, and the Homeland Battlefield Bill have crippled the work of investigative reporters in every major newsroom in the country. Government sources that once provided information to counter official narratives and lies have largely severed contact with the press. They are acutely aware that there is no longer any legal protection for those who dissent or who expose the crimes of state. The NDAA threw in a new and dangerous component that permits the government not only to silence journalists but imprison them and deny them due process because they “substantially supported” terrorist groups or “associated forces.”
Hedges noted the deposition would help the judge determine if he had standing to challenge the Homeland Battlefield Act.
O’Brien says of her deposition, “Having never been deposed before, the process is nerve-wracking. I concur with Mr. Hedges that the exchange is very polite but there is a sense of the very seriousness and the gravity of the matter.” She adds, “It’s not something that one enters into lightly.”
Dr. Cornel West, an author and teacher at Princeton University, and Naomi Wolf, an author, may become plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
In anticipation of the hearing tomorrow, Wolf has an article up at The Guardian, which details several instances where she declined to meet with individuals because of the Homeland Battlefield Law. Here’s one example:
…In November 2011, I declined, in writing, a proposed meeting with Vaughan Smith and Julian Assange, because of statements made by high-level United States officials regarding their belief that Assange is a terrorist, as well as the ongoing Department of Justice investigation, which, as I understand it, could lead to terrorism and/or espionage charges against him…
She also has declined to meet with a group in London that works with former Guantanamo detainees and a reporter who produced a documentary on “the bombardment of Gaza.”
Jonsdottir has produced a video statement but the State Department is attempting to deny her the right to have her testimony heard in court. This is alarming especially when considering the fact that the Justice Department has subpoenaed her Twitter account for information on her association and involvement with staff members of WikiLeaks.
The hearing tomorrow is the first stage of this lawsuit. It is the center of a “Stop NDAA” campaign that the grassroots activism organization Demand Progress has come together with Revolution Truth to advance. So far over 45,000 emails have gone out to US Congress members.
The campaign has a “Round 2” planned which will involve opening up the lawsuit to the “entire US public and the world.”
One person, Ramy Mahmoud of Occupy Miami, is already being considered. On March 14, Miami-Dade cops raided an Occupy Miami “safehouse” after receiving a “bogus terrorism tip.” They asked Mahmoud, “Are you a Muslim?” and “Do you love this country?” as they pointed guns at them and stepped on their backs to see if they had weapons.
The instance may be the first “confluence of Occupy, the idea of terrorism and the NDAA.” The campaign is not sure, but the raid has moved the campaign to consider having Mahmoud sign up as a plaintiff.
Occupy Wall Street has planned a “silent march” from Foley Square to Union Square at 3 pm. Occupiers intend to “show solidarity” with the “Freedom Seven” and their “discontent with an authoritarian piece of legislation that destroys” American civil liberties.
The Occupy movement has shown great opposition to the NDAA since it began to move through Congress and was eventually signed into law. A national day of action was held in January. Occupy Wall Street conducted a flash mob action in Grand Central Station in New York during rush hour that brought attention to the new law.
Much of the backlash in December came from the fact that the law was to grant the military extraordinary powers to detain US citizens without trial. Obama issued a signing statement indicating he had reservations about the new law. But that didn’t remove the reality that this new power given to the military was codified into law.
The federal government claims individuals like the “Freedom Seven” have nothing to fear. “Associated forces” have to be “armed.” But, Carl Mayer, a lead attorney in the lawsuit, told Courthouse News the “armed group” requirement is absent from the text of the statute.
“If it only targeted armed groups, it would say that,” Mayer said in a phone interview, adding that the phrase “substantially support” is also problematic.
“Those definitions are so broad and vague that they can encompass, journalists, lawyers, or even the judge, and they are undefined in the statute,” he added.
Meanwhile, he says, the U.S. military undermined the alleged “armed group” requirement during hearings for the court-martial of alleged WikiLeaks source Pfc. Bradley Manning. Prosecutors recently claimed that Manning supported al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula by allegedly leaking 700,000-plus files to WikiLeaks.
“It gives the lie to what they’re doing,” Mayer said. “Now, they’re prosecuting Manning, who did not give armed support but leaked documents [to WikiLeaks], allegedly.”
Mayer contends, “The Homeland Battlefield Law is as Orwellian as its name implies. America is not a ‘battlefield’; it is a democratic republic.” Yet, the Homeland Battlefield Act subverts the rule of law to advance perpetual war against an enemy that is so undefined that any citizen could easily be accused of being an accessory to the enemy.
Just this month, the Executive Branch has expanded guidelines for the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) so that information on “non-terrorists” (otherwise known as US citizens) can be stored for five years. It has also asserted the authority to execute individuals abroad without charge or trial. When one considers how rapidly the imperial presidency appears to be growing, the lawsuit is the beginning of an important grassroots effort to challenge unchecked executive power in America.