U.S. calls ruling on military detention law harmful

NEW YORK Fri Sep 14, 2012 4:42pm EDT

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - The U.S. government on Friday asked a federal judge to suspend her decision to block part of a law that permits indefinite military detention, saying it was an "extraordinary" ruling that would hurt its ability to fight wars oversees.

U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest ruled in New York on Wednesday in favor of non-profit groups and reporters whose work relates to conflicts in the Middle East. Those groups and individuals said they feared being detained under a section of the law, signed by President Barack Obama in December.

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan, acting on behalf of the U.S. government, appealed the judge's permanent injunction on Thursday. In court papers on Friday, they asked the judge to immediately freeze her order until it is taken up by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York.

The opinion is "unprecedented, and the government has compelling arguments that it should be reversed," prosecutors said. They called it an "extraordinary injunction of worldwide scope."

The judge on Friday denied the government's request for an immediate stay of her injunction and said she would rule on Wednesday on whether to suspend it from then on.

The permanent injunction prevents the U.S. government from enforcing a portion of Section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act's "Homeland Battlefield" provisions.

The provision authorizes indefinite military detention for people deemed to have "substantially supported" al Qaeda, the Taliban or "associated forces."

The judge's 112-page opinion Wednesday extended a temporary injunction issued in May. The case stems from a January lawsuit filed by former New York Times war correspondent and Pulitzer Prize winner Chris Hedges and others.

The plaintiffs said they had no assurance that their writing and advocacy activities would not fall under the scope of the provisions.

In their court papers on Friday, government lawyers said the plaintiffs had no basis to fear being locked up for their activities, and that the judge's order interfered with the president's powers at a time of war.

Government attorneys argue that the executive branch is entitled to latitude when it comes to cases of national security and that the law is neither too broad nor overly vague.

Plaintiffs said the U.S. court filing was the government's latest attempt to undo the judge's rulings.

"The Obama administration is doubling down in their effort to chill civil liberties, reporter activities and activists in the United States by hyper aggressively trying to overturn an opinion by a federal judge," Carl Mayer, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said on Friday.

The case is Hedges et al v. Obama et al, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, No. 12-cv-331.

(Reporting By Basil Katz; Editing by Martha Graybow and Todd Eastham)

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