Acting at the behest of the Obama administration, a federal judge has halted a recent court ruling that sharply questioned the federal government's power to indefinitely detain terror suspects.
At issue is a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2011 that empowered the government to detain without trial people who "substantially" or "directly" supported the orchestrators of the Sept. 11 attacks or "associated forces." Southern District of New York judge Katherine Forrest ruled against that provision earlier this week, siding with a group of journalists and activists who said the law gave them credible fear that they could be held indefinitely.
The section in the NDAA was ambiguously worded and provoked an impassioned debate on the Senate floor, where lawmakers argued over whether the law allowed the government to strip legal protections from American citizens captured on U.S. soil. Ultimately, Congress deferred to the Obama administration.
In the decade since the Sept. 11, the government has detained scores of terrorism suspects without charging them with a crime. The authority to do so stems from an Authorization for the Use of Military Force, or AUMF, passed by Congress shortly after the twin towers fell.
According to the Obama administration, the National Defense Authorization Act merely affirms detention powers the government already wields. But Judge Forrest disagreed, writing in her decision that the new law enshrines "broader detention authority than was provided in the AUMF in 2001 and to try to ratify past detentions, which may have occurred under an overly broad interpretation of the AUMF."
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The administration quickly condemned Forrest's decision, saying it severely undercut operations against the Taliban and Al Qaeda abroad. The ruling "threatens irreparable harm to national security and the public interest by injecting added burdens and dangerous confusion into the conduct of military operations abroad during an active armed conflict," administration officials wrote in a court filing.
Officials asked for an interim stay on Judge Forrest's order. A Second Circuit court of appeals judge granted that request on Tuesday. The issue is now scheduled to go before a hearing on September 28.