WASHINGTON, D.C., February 18, 2013 ― Chris Hedges, a former correspondent for the New York Times and a senior fellow at The Nation Institute, is lead plaintiff in a suit brought by a group of reporters and activists against the Obama Administration over the NDAA provision authorizing indefinite detentions without trial. He was one of a group of reporters awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 2002 for the New York Times’ coverage of global terrorism.
On February 6, the Justice Department asked an appeals court to reverse an earlier decision blocking that NDAA provision. It argued that without it, the government’s ability to fight terrorism would be hampered.
Kevin Kelly: If you could, please provide some background as to why you decided to sue the Obama administration over the language in the NDAA?
Chris Hedges: Well, Bruce Afran and Carl Mayer are the two lawyers who approached me because they needed a credible plaintiff, and because I had spent twenty years as a foreign correspondent, seven of them in the Middle East, and we went through the State Department terrorism list.
I had spent a lot of time with individuals and groups on that list, and so it gave me a standing in court that very few plaintiffs would have had. I, Carl, and Bruce all understood that this was a monumental step to not only empower the military to arrest American citizens, but strip them of due process, and hold them indefinitely in the language of section 1021 “until the end of hostilities”; which in the age of permanent war is probably a lifetime. That’s why I was approached and that’s why I agreed.
We had the case heard in the southern district court of New York under Judge Katherine Forest who in September ruled in our favor, invalidating the law, issuing an injunction to 1021. The response of the Obama administration was quite telling; we knew they’d appeal, but they didn’t simply appeal. The day of the ruling they went to Judge Forest and demanded a temporary stay meaning the law would be put back into effect until the appellate court could hear it.
Judge Forest refused, they then demanded an emergency hearing, this was on a Friday, the next Monday morning at 9 am at the second circuit they got it, and unfortunately the second circuit did put the law back into effect until the appeal was heard. It was heard last Wednesday, and we are waiting now on a ruling. I think they did that because they are already using it if they were holding American citizens in military facilities and denying them due process, and if Judge Forest’s injunction were allowed to stand then they would be in contempt of court. What is appears to illustrate is there are probably duel U.S. Pakistani nationals or maybe U.S. Afghan nationals who are being detained in military facilities and denied due process. The law is probably currently enforced.
Kelly: Do you believe there is a chance that you will be able to win?
Hedges: Either way this is going to end up in the Supreme Court, I suspect. If the three judge panel that presided over the hearing on Wednesday rule in our favor, the response of the Obama administration in the southern district court indicates that they will push it into the Supreme Court in a manner of weeks. If the second circuit rules against us, if they overturn Judge Forest’s decision we will certainly appeal. Then the Supreme Court will decide to take it or not take it, but my guess is they’ll take it.
I think the assault on the basic constitutional rights of due process is so flagrant and so egregious that we actually have a fairly good chance of winning. That doesn’t mean we will win. The courts since 9/11 have largely caved on national security issues, and you have judges in essence writing opinions about why they can’t implement the law. Judge Forest was the exception to that, and of course we are hoping that the second circuit will be as well.
Kelly: With so much uncertainty in the world, what advice would you give to the young people of this nation/generation?
Hedges: It’s harder and harder to find out what’s going on, especially over the commercial airwaves that have descended into trivial celebrity gossip and info-entertainment. MSNBC and Fox are purportedly news channels, but they’re not. They serve the interests of two factions within the ruling elite. I worry that we as a culture are severing ourselves from print, and the skillful manipulation of images is largely in the hands of people who are not our friends.
I think print is key, I think reading is key, and I think that people have to be proactive about seeking out information because if they rely passively on established systems of information, and the NDAA is an example of that, they’re just not going to know what is going on in their own country.
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