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The Polite Conference Rooms Where Liberties Are Saved and Lost

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Posted on Mar 26, 2012
AP / John Minchillo

Chris Hedges is suing the president over the National Defense Authorization Act, which legalizes the indefinite detention of American citizens without due process.

By Chris Hedges

I spent four hours in a third-floor conference room at 86 Chambers St. in Manhattan on Friday as I underwent a government deposition. Benjamin H. Torrance, an assistant U.S. attorney, carried out the questioning as part of the government’s effort to decide whether it will challenge my standing as a plaintiff in the lawsuit I have brought with others against President Barack Obama and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta over the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), also known as the Homeland Battlefield Bill.

The NDAA implodes our most cherished constitutional protections. It permits the military to function on U.S. soil as a civilian law enforcement agency. It authorizes the executive branch to order the military to selectively suspend due process and habeas corpus for citizens. The law can be used to detain people deemed threats to national security, including dissidents whose rights were once protected under the First Amendment, and hold them until what is termed “the end of the hostilities.” Even the name itself—the Homeland Battlefield Bill—suggests the totalitarian concept that endless war has to be waged within “the homeland” against internal enemies as well as foreign enemies.

Judge Katherine B. Forrest, in a session starting at 9 a.m. Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, will determine if I have standing and if the case can go forward. The attorneys handling my case, Bruce Afran and Carl Mayer, will ask, if I am granted standing, for a temporary injunction against the Homeland Battlefield Bill. An injunction would, in effect, nullify the law and set into motion a fierce duel between two very unequal adversaries—on the one hand, the U.S. government and, on the other, myself, Noam Chomsky, Daniel Ellsberg, the Icelandic parliamentarian Birgitta Jónsdóttir and three other activists and journalists. All have joined me as plaintiffs and begun to mobilize resistance to the law through groups such as Stop NDAA.

The deposition was, as these things go, conducted civilly. Afran and Mayer, the attorneys bringing the suit on my behalf, were present. I was asked detailed questions by Torrance about my interpretation of Section 1021 and Section 1022 of the NDAA. I was asked about my relationships and contacts with groups on the U.S. State Department terrorism list. I was asked about my specific conflicts with the U.S. government when I was a foreign correspondent, a period in which I reported from El Salvador, Nicaragua, the Middle East, the Balkans and other places. And I was asked how the NDAA law had impeded my work.

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.”


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Those of us who reach out to groups opposed to the U.S. in order to explain them to the American public will not be differentiated from terrorists under this law. I know how vicious the government can be when it feels challenged by the press. I covered the wars in El Salvador and Nicaragua from 1983 to 1988. Press members who reported on the massacres and atrocities committed by the Salvadoran military, as well as atrocities committed by the U.S.-backed Contra forces in Nicaragua, were repeatedly denounced by senior officials in the Reagan administration as fellow travelers and supporters of El Salvador’s Farabundo Marti National Liberation (FMLN) rebels or the leftist Sandinista government in Managua, Nicaragua.

The Reagan White House, in one example, set up an internal program to distort information and intimidate and attack those of us in the region who wrote articles that countered the official narrative. The program was called “public diplomacy.” Walter Raymond Jr., a veteran CIA propagandist, ran it. The goal of the program was to manage “perceptions” about the wars in Central America among the public. That management included aggressive efforts to destroy the careers of reporters who were not compliant by branding them as communists or communist sympathizers. If the power to lock us up indefinitely without legal representation had been in the hands of Elliott Abrams or Oliver North or Raymond, he surely would have used it.

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prisnersdilema's avatar

By prisnersdilema, March 26, 2012 at 8:00 am Link to this comment

The1 percenters have long sought to end our freedoms.  First they stole an election,
then they created 911, next came the wars used as a pretext to create a state that
disenfranchised the people,  through the creation of political feer, in service of their

It is ironic, that our political class, who are little more than war criminals themselves,
seek to turn our freedoms into crimes. This is how they abet themselves, and cover over
their atrocities. Without freedom, we have become the enemy. This they know, so they
have drafted these laws to protect not the American people, but themselves from the
American people.

To continue their rule fom the shadows, they have to continue to criminalize freedom.
Why else would they fear the truth?

Report this
Anarcissie's avatar

By Anarcissie, March 26, 2012 at 7:32 am Link to this comment

‘Somebody does have to stand guard’—against the American people.

Thus far in the 21st century, the chance of being harmed by a terrorist in the United States is about one in one million.  You are far, far more likely to die in an automobile crash, and no one is suggesting that private automobiles be prohibited.  It’s not a pressing issue until we define terrorism as ‘anything the ruling class doesn’t like’.

However, it seems probable that harder times are coming, of which Occupy Wall Street was a harbinger.  To deal with an angry and rebellious populace, the ruling class would no doubt like their executive to possess arbitrary powers of arrest, detention, and execution without the tedious rigmarole of due process.  That’s the terror here, and that’s the reason for the NDAA.
The Man is saving up for a rainy day.

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By Dominick J. Di Noto, March 26, 2012 at 7:15 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

What I find interesting in what Mr. Hedges said and
some folks here is that they are defending or trying to
defend our Democracy when we aren’t a Democracy we are
a Republic.  There is a subtle difference is there not?

Report this

By Lumpenproletarier, March 26, 2012 at 7:08 am Link to this comment

Gosh, Chris can bring a lawsuit against the Predident of the United States, and then criticises the way that the judicial system responds to it?

There is rule of law in the United States; if there were not, his petition would have been ignored, he and his lawyers would have been thrown in jail or killed. His very existence today as free citizen, is proof that the system is not as corrupt as he asserts.

If you would like to learn about a governement where there is no rule of law, and no justice, talk to Liu Xiaobo.

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Ronald Thomas West's avatar

By Ronald Thomas West, March 26, 2012 at 6:44 am Link to this comment

It is worth noting this section is not challenged on its merits in the Hedges

“It is worth reading Sections 1021 and 1022 of the bill. Section 1021 of the
NDAA “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.” Subsection B defines covered persons like this: “(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 U.S.
or its coalition partners.”

When in fact there is a growing body of evidence beginning with and more recently and quite powerfully buttressed by a
new and very well researched exposé at the Asia Times breaking down the
insider trading profits tied to Bush people having pre-knowledge of the 9/11

In which case Hedges is not ‘challenging the official narrative’ here but tacitly
supporting it. Given this fact, it is worth noting when a poor strategy and mis-
handled case goes into the caselaw history of the USA, it can be used by the
government as precedent to curtail further lawsuits along the same lines with
dismissals based on ‘settled’ questions of law. This next is worth a read as well:

Report this

By dini, March 26, 2012 at 6:26 am Link to this comment

Thank you Chris for your perseverance and courage to challenge this Unjust law. 
You are an honorable man.  This law is so frightening.  Anybody writing on
Truthdig is probably on a list somewhere.  The fear tactic really does freeze people
into being powerless victims.  Silence kills.  Nazi Germany was an example of
this.  I am afraid.  Read Krugman (NYT) today regarding ALEC.  All we have left is
to stand on the side of Justice with our whole being and not back down.
Every day I see and feel the wonders of nature and I know life is worth defending
to the end.  Onward!

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By Poet, March 26, 2012 at 6:16 am Link to this comment

The reasons that these “laws” are not just is that those who create them have so little or no Ethics.  For too many their motives never rise above simple self-service for profits. If any nation wishes to make or even find justice, it must seek the highest of values which are based in Integrity.  Across the board capitalism’s goals are confused with “democracy” and seldom honored.  Until folks come to value an earth based upon true equality, we will continue this degenerating spiral into “...the dream of the planet…” don Miguel Ruiz.

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By Lisa Simeone, March 26, 2012 at 4:48 am Link to this comment

“. . . whether the statute contains provision for the
accused to be able to, at minimum, rely on a rebuttable
presumption of innocence enforceable via summary
court hearing: again,at minimum.  Can you clarify
whether the statute has such a provision?”

No, it doesn’t have such a provision.  We’re all guilty
until proven innocent in this brave new world.

Report this

By Bob, March 26, 2012 at 4:26 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Why didn’t Mr. Hedges sue Dick Cheney, George Bush Jr. et al? If he did sue the previous administration what was the outcome?

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By Suzanne Benning, March 26, 2012 at 4:26 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Good luck Mr. Hedges.  We’ll see if truth and justice can still prevail in this country.  (I’ve read and appreciated your comments for ten years.)

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By Tony Vodvarka, March 26, 2012 at 3:36 am Link to this comment

Many thanks for your patriotic work, Mr. Hedges.  You
are one of the few that might make one proud to be an
American citizen.  Passing through security and
immigration on returning from overseas yesterday, I was
not an American citizen, I was an American suspect.

Report this

By waytoomanybottlesofrum, March 26, 2012 at 2:26 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Torrance uses what I call government speak. It’s a strange, semi-literate style of diction that quivers between technicality and awkwardness.

It really conveys the G-Man’s schizophrenic and totalitarian work environment.

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