In three earlier posts, I have discussed the problem with turning the FISA Court into the Drone and/or Targeted Killing Court: As I noted, the existing FISA Court no longer fulfills the already problematic role it was set up to have, ensuring that the government have particularized probable cause before it wiretap someone. On the contrary, the FISA Court now serves as a veil of secrecy behind which the government can invent new legal theories with little check.
In addition, before the FISA Court started rubberstamping Drone Strikes and/or Targeted Killings of Americans, presumably it would need an actual law to guide it. (Though Carrie Cordero, who is opposed to the Drone and/or Targeted Killing FISA Court idea because it might actually restrain the Executive, seems to envision the Court just using the standards the Executive has itself invented.) And there’s a problem with that.
The same Congress that hasn’t been successful passing legislation on detention in the 2012 NDAA is certainly not up to the task of drafting a law describing when targeted killing is okay.
As a reminder, here’s what happened with the NDAA sections on military detention. The effort started with an attempt to restate whom we are at war with, so as to mandate that those we’re at war with be subject to law of war detention. The language attempting to restate whom we’re at war with ended up saying:
(a) IN GENERAL.—Congress affirms that the authority of the President to use all necessary and appropriate force pursuant to the Authorization for Use of Military Force (Public Law 107–40; 50 U.S.C. 1541 note) includes the authority for the Armed Forces of the United States to detain covered persons (as defined in subsection (b)) pending disposition under the law of war.
(b) COVERED PERSONS.—A covered person under this section is any person as follows:
(1) A person who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored those responsible for those attacks.
(2) 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.
Compare that language with what the actual AUMF says:
That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.
Part of the difference arises from the shift to focusing exclusively on persons (you can’t detain a nation, after all, though Palestine might disagree).
Part of the difference comes from the effort — clause 2 above — to extend the AUMF to those associated forces. This was meant to cover groups like AQAP and al-Shabaab, but as we’ll see, it’s one source of the problem with the law.
But part of the problem is that the NDAA language smartly took out the “he determines” and “in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism” language. The former has long been a giant loophole, allowing the President to define in secret whom we’re at war against. And I increasingly suspect the Administration has been using the latter language to expand the concept of imminent threat.
In other words, in an effort to parrot back its understanding of whom we’re at war against, Congress both introduced some new fuzzy language — associated forces — and took out existing loopholes — the “he determines” and “prevent any future acts.”
As much as I, and most who care about Constitutional protections and Article III courts still having a function in balance of power determinations, the recent 112 page ruling by Judge Katherine Forrest in SDNY (see here and, more importantly, here) had fundamental issues that made review certain, and reversal all but so.
The first step was to seek a stay in the SDNY trial court, which Judge Forrest predictably refused; but then the matter would go to the Second Circuit, and the stay application was formally filed today.
Well, that didn’t take long. From Josh Gerstein at Politico, just filed:
A single federal appeals court judge put a temporary hold Monday night on a district court judge’s ruling blocking enforcement of indefinite detention provisions in a defense bill passed by Congress and signed into law last year by President Barack Obama.
U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit Judge Raymond Lohier issued a one-page order staying the district court judge’s injunction until a three-judge panel of the court can take up the issue on September 28.
Lohier offered no explanation or rationale for the temporary stay.
Here is the actual order both granting the temporary stay and scheduling the September 28 motions panel consideration.
This is effectively an administrative stay until the full three judge motions panel can consider the matter properly on September 28th. But I would be shocked if the full panel does anything but continue the stay for the pendency of the appeal.
Last night (well for me, early morning by the blog clock) I did a post on the decision in the SDNY case of Hedges et. al v. Obama. It was, save for some extended quotations, a relatively short post that touched perhaps too much on the positive and not enough on the inherent problems that lead me to conclude at the end of the post that the decision’s odds on appeal are dire.
I also noted that it was certain the DOJ would appeal Judge Forrest’s decision. Well, that didn’t take long, it has already occurred. This afternoon, the DOJ filed their Notice of Appeal.
As nearly all initial notices of appeal are, it is a perfunctory two page document. But the intent and resolve of DOJ is crystal clear. Let’s talk about why the DOJ is being so immediately aggressive and what their chances are.
I woke up this morning and saw the, albeit it not specifically targeted, counterpoint to my initial rosy take offered by Ben Wittes at Lawfare, and I realized there was a duty to do a better job of discussing the problems with Forrest’s decision as well. Wittes’ post is worth a read so that the flip side of the joy those of us on the left currently feel is tempered a bit by the stark realities of where Katherine Forrest’s handiwork is truly headed.
Wittes makes three main critiques. The first:
So put simply, Judge Forrest’s entire opinion hinges on the idea that the NDAA expanded the AUMF detention authority, yet she never once states honestly the D.C. Circuit law extant at the time of its passage—law which unambiguously supports the government’s contention that the NDAA affected little or no substantive change in the AUMF detention power.
Second, Judge Forrest is also deeply confused about the applicability of the laws of war to detention authority under U.S. domestic law. She does actually does spend a great deal of time talking about Al-Bihani, just not about the part of it that really matters to the NDAA. She fixates instead on the panel majority’s determination that the laws of war do not govern detentions because they are not part of U.S. domestic law. Why exactly she thinks this point is relevant I’m not quite sure. She seems to think that the laws of war are vaguer and more permissive than the AUMF—precisely the opposite of the Al-Bihani panel’s assumption that the laws of war would impose additional constraints. But never mind. Someone needs to tell Judge Forrest that the D.C. Circuit, in its famous non-en-banc en-banc repudiated that aspect of the panel decision denying the applicability of the laws of war and has since assumed that the laws of war do inform detention authority under the AUMF. In other words, Judge Forrest ignores—indeed misrepresents—Al-Bihani on the key matter to which it is surpassingly relevant, and she fixates on an aspect of the opinion that is far less relevant and that, in any case, is no longer good law.
Lastly, Ben feels the scope of the permanent injunction prescribed by Forrest is overbroad:
Judge Forrest is surely not the first district court judge to try to enjoin the government with respect to those not party to a litigation and engaged in conduct not resembling the conduct the parties allege in their complaint. But her decision represents an extreme kind of case of this behavior. After all, “in any manner and as to any person” would seem by its terms to cover U.S. detention operations in Afghanistan.
First off, although I did not quote that portion of Ben’s analysis, but I think we both agree that Judge Forrest pens overly long and loosely constructed opinions, if the two in Hedges are any Continue reading
You may remember back in mid May Chris Hedges, Dan Ellsberg, Jennifer Bolen, Noam Chomsky, Alexa O’Brien, Kai Wargalla, Birgetta Jonsdottir and the US Day of Rage won a surprising, nee stunning, ruling from Judge Katherine Forrest in the Southern District of New York. Many of us who litigate felt the plaintiffs would never even be given standing, much less prevail on the merits. But, in a ruling dated May 16, 2012, Forrest gave the plaintiffs not only standing, but the affirmative win by issuing a preliminary injunction.
Late yesterday came even better news for Hedges and friends, the issuance of a permanent injunction. I will say this about Judge Forrest, she is not brief as the first ruling was 68 pages, and todays consumes a whopping 112 pages. Here is the setup, as laid out by Forrest (p. 3-4):
Plaintiffs are a group of writers, journalists, and activists whose work regularly requires them to engage in writing, speech, and associational activities protected by the First Amendment. They have testified credibly to having an actual and reasonable fear that their activities will subject them to indefinite military detention pursuant to § 1021(b)(2).
At the March hearing, the Government was unable to provide this Court with any assurance that plaintiffs’ activities (about which the Government had known–and indeed about which the Government had previously deposed those individuals) would not in fact subject plaintiffs to military detention pursuant to § 1021(b)(2). Following the March hearing (and the Court’s May 16 Opinion on the preliminary injunction), the Government fundamentally changed its position.
In its May 25, 2012, motion for reconsideration, the Government put forth the qualified position that plaintiffs’ particular activities, as described at the hearing, if described accurately, if they were independent, and without more, would not subject plaintiffs to military detention under § 1021. The Government did not–and does not–generally agree or anywhere argue that activities protected by the First Amendment could not subject an individual to indefinite military detention under § 1021(b)(2). The First Amendment of the Continue reading
As I noted yesterday, Judge Katherine Forrest stopped the government from enforcing Section 1021 of last year’s NDAA, because it is having a chilling effect on the First Amendment protected activities of plaintiff’s including Chris Hedges.
There’s an aspect of her ruling that was rather auspiciously timed. Because in addition to enjoining 1021, she invited Congress to fix it.
Accordingly, this Court preliminarily enjoins enforcement of §1021 pending further proceedings in this Court or remedial action by Congress mooting the need for such further proceedings.
As luck would have it, the House is poised to vote today on the Smith-Amash amendment to next year’s NDAA. Their amendment would largely–though perhaps not entirely–“moot the need” for any further proceedings in the Hedges case, because it would eliminate indefinite military detention for those captured in the US.
Reps. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) and Justin Amash [my Rep] are planning to offer an amendment to this year’s defense authorization bill that would guarantee that no one—citizen or otherwise—could be denied a fair trial if captured in the United States. Smith, who is the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, will introduce the bill during a hearing Wednesday. Amash has agreed to support it once the defense bill comes to the floor next week, possibly bringing along enough Republican support to ensure its passage in the House.
“The amendment is drafted to prevent the president from indefinitely detaining persons captured on US soil without charge or trial,” said Will Adams, a spokesperson for Amash.
I spoke to Adams last night, and the Amendment is within striking distance of having enough votes to pass–though the House leadership is trying a bunch of stunts to avoid that outcome.
I said passing this Amendment would mostly moot further proceedings. That’s because Forrest issued her injunction covering all the plaintiffs, including people like Brigitta Jonsdottir, who is an Icelandic citizen and has sworn off from traveling to the US because of the NDAA and other Wikileaks related prosecution. Whereas the Smith-Amash amendment would apply to Jonsdottir only if she were in the US; it doesn’t offer any protection to non-citizens outside of the US.
Which means, with her ruling, Forrest has made the Smith-Amash amendment the sensible middle ground (really, it ought to be considered the bare minimum, but even still, before last night it didn’t stand a chance in hell of passing the Senate). That is, it does what most Americans seem to want done to the NDAA, to limit it so it doesn’t apply to them.
In her ruling, Forrest made it clear she tried to offer the government an easy way to help her avoid enjoining this section.
The Court’s attempt to avoid having to deal with the Constitutional aspects of the challenge was by providing the Government with prompt notice in the form of declarations and depositions of the precise conduct in which plaintiffs are involved and which they claim places them in fear of military detention. To put it bluntly, eliminating these plaintiffs’ standing simply by representing that their conduct does not fall within the scope of § 1021 would have been simple. The Government chose not to do so–thereby ensuring standing and requiring this Court to reach the merits of the instant motion.
She also made it clear she’d welcome Congress fixing the problem. Let’s see if they do so today.
The Court then asked: Give me an example. Tell me what it means to substantially support associated forces.
Government: I’m not in a position to give specific examples.
Court: Give me one.
Government: I’m not in a position to give one specific example.
When Judge Katherine Forrest asked the government, repeatedly, for both generalized clarification and descriptions specific to plaintiffs like Chris Hedges and Brigitta Jonsdottir explaining the scope of Section 1021 of the NDAA, the government refused to give it. Not only was the government unwilling to reassure that even a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist like Hedges would not be indefinitely detained as “a person who was part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces” if he reported on any number of terrorist groups, but it also refused to explain the meaning of the section generally.
Which is the core reason why Forrest not only ruled that the plaintiffs have standing and the case should go forward, but also enjoined any enforcement of Section 1021. In explaining this, she noted that she was forced by the government’s refusal to give clarification to assume that the government believes First Amendment speech is included in the orbit of “substantially supported” that might be indefinitely held under 1021.
It must be said that it would have been a rather simple matter for the Government to have stated that as to these plaintiffs and the conduct as to which they would testify, that § 1021 did not and would not apply, if indeed it did or would not. That could have eliminated the standing of these plaintiffs and their claims of irreparable harm. Failure to be able to make such a representation given the prior notice of the activities at issue requires this Court to assume that, in fact, the Government takes the position that a wide swath of expressive and associational conduct is in fact encompassed by § 1021.
This Court is left then, with the following conundrum: plaintiffs have put forward evidence that § 1021 has in fact chilled their expressive and associational activities; the Government will not represent that such activities are not covered by § 1021; plaintiffs’ activities are constitutionally protected. Given that record and the protections afforded by the First Amendment, this Court finds that plaintiffs have shown a likelihood of succeeding on the merits of a facial challenge to § 1021.
I spent much of the day explaining to people why Obama’s Yemen EO is so troubling. I’ve had to describe all the things that have transpired that have criminalized speech since Obama issued a similar EO in 2010–the decision in Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, the conviction of Tarek Mehanna, and the charging of Bradley Manning with aiding the enemy.
Now I can point to Forrest’s opinion to show that the proposition that journalists might be prosecuted for material support of terrorism for their First Amendment speech–to the extent it’s an extreme proposition–it is the government’s extreme proposition.
Forrest used the government’s stubbornness against it in one other way, too–to get past the rather high bar on whether to issue a preliminary injunction or not. The decision on whether to issue an injunction or not depends on a lot of things. But ultimately, it requires a balancing test between the hardships imposed on the plaintiff and the defense. And since–Forrest explained–the government repeatedly insisted that Section 1021 does no more or less than what the AUMF already does, then enjoining the enforcement of 1021 would not harm the government at all.
In considering whether to issue a preliminary injunction, the Court must consider, as noted above, “the balance of the hardships between the plaintiff and defendant and issue the injunction only if the balance of the hardships tips in the plaintiff’s favor.” Salinger, 607 F.3d at 80.
The Government’s primary argument in opposition to this motion is that § 1021 is simply an affirmation of the AUMF; that it goes no further, it does nothing more. As is clear from this Opinion, this Court disagrees that that is the effect of § 1021 as currently drafted. However, if the Government’s argument is to be credited in terms of its belief as to the impact of the legislation–which is nil–then the issuance of an injunction should have absolutely no impact on any Governmental activities at all. The AUMF does not have a “sunset” provision: it is still in force and effect. Thus, to the extent the Government believes that the two provisions are co-extensive, enjoining any action under § 1021 should not have any impact on the Government.
While most of Forrest’s ruling involved hoisting the government on its own obstinate petard, she also left a goodie in her ruling for the higher courts that will surely review her decision after the government surely appeals (unless Congress passes a fix to the NDAA tomorrow, as they might). Forrest established the importance of speech by pointing to … Anthony Kennedy’s opinion in Citizens United.
In Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 130 S. Ct. 876 (2010), Justice Kennedy wrote that “[s]peech is an essential mechanism of democracy, for it is the means that hold officials accountable to the people . . . . The right of citizens to inquire, to hear, to speak, and to use information to reach consensus is a pre-condition to enlightened self-government.” Id. at 899. Laws that burden political speech are therefore subject to strict scrutiny. Id. at 898. “The First Amendment protects speech and speaker, and the ideas that flow from each.” Id. at 899.
If corporations can avail themselves of unlimited campaign speech, then mere journalists and activists ought to be able to engage in political speech without being indefinitely detained.
And yet, it took a judge to make that argument to the government.