Chris Hedges, an author and columnist at Truthdig.com and former Middle East bureau chief at the New York Times, filed a legal complaint at the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York on Friday, as part of his opposition to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
This year's version of the act, which has been passed each year for nearly 50 years to identify and implement defense spending, gained particular notoriety for provisions in its counterterrorism section. Specifically, how the government is required to deal with those suspected of terrorist activities.
Other parts of the legislation, which President Barack Obama signed on Dec. 31 and due to take effect in March, impose new economic sanctions on Iran, and order the review of Iranian, Russian, and Chinese military capacities.
The president issued a signing statement expressing disagreement with some of the NDAA provisions.
Hedges, who resigned from The Times when the paper warned him against continuing his public antiwar stance, told Democracy Now that he is suing President Obama and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta because the provisions are "clearly unconstitutional" and "a huge and egregious assault on democracy."
Hedges went on to explain that the administration's prior reservations about the bill were mainly due to a desire to secure executive authority over decisions about detainees, and noted that a resolution to exempt Americans from the indefinite detention provisions, presented by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., was ultimately rejected.
Assisted by public interest attorneys Carl J. Meyer and Bruce I. Afran, Hedges outlined his motivations in a column for Truthdig.com, calling the bill's passage a "catastrophic blow to civil liberties." The ACLU and others have criticized the detention provisions, highlighting the possibility for arrest and indefinite detention without trial of American citizens on U.S. soil, including by members of the armed forces.
Hedges also warned that "[i]t's a very seamless step to include in some of the obstructionist tactics of the Occupy movement" and highlighted that the legislation was passed without support from American national security agencies.
The litigation's purpose, Meyer explained, is to "have a federal court declare the act unconstitutional" and highlighted Hedges' past as a journalist who has documented the actions and perspectives of dissident groups, including some who are viewed as terrorists.
Meyer emphasized that the wording in the NDAA has been left undefined enough so that it could easily apply to journalists such as Hedges or otherwise "encompass people who are engaged in free speech and all sorts of activities [.]"
Photo: from Wikimedia