NEW YORK (Reuters) - A federal appeals court on Wednesday lifted a lower court order that would have prevented the U.S. military from indefinitely detaining people believed to have helped al Qaeda or the Taliban.
The decision was a setback for journalists, activists and others who had argued that the law put them in danger of indefinite detention. It was a victory for the government, which argued that the law was needed to fight terrorism and that it did not apply to the journalists and activists.
In Wednesday's ruling, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York said the plaintiffs lacked standing to challenge the law.
The law is part of the National Defense Authorization Act, which Congress passes annually to authorize programs of the Defense Department. It allows for the government to indefinitely detain people it deems to have "substantially supported" al Qaeda, the Taliban or "associated forces."
Journalists and activists whose work relates to overseas conflicts - including Pulitzer Prize-winner Chris Hedges - challenged the law, fearing their interactions with such groups could get them locked up.
In September 2012, U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest found the provision violated the Constitution, in part because its language is too vague, and issued a permanent injunction preventing the United States from invoking the law.
The U.S. Justice Department, which said her ruling would harm U.S. war efforts abroad, won an emergency suspension of the ruling in September while the appeals panel considered the issue.
In its ruling on Wednesday lifting the injunction, the appeals court did not address the merits of constitutional claims, and returned the case to Forrest for further proceedings.
Representatives of the plaintiffs could not be reached for comment immediately after the ruling.
The case is Hedges v. Obama, 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 12-3176.
(Reporting by Bernard Vaughan; Additional reporting by Jonathan Stempel; Editing by Vicki Allen)
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