Court to rule on whether U.S. Government can kill American without due process

April 3, 2019

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Lawyers for US citizen Bilal Abdul Kareem have filed their response to the Government, in a case that will establish whether the U.S. can assassinate its own citizens, without telling them why or offering them their constitutional right to due process.

Mr Kareem alleges that he was nearly killed by US missiles on five separate occasions in 2016, while working as a journalist in Syria. In June 2018, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia held that he could plausibly infer that he had been placed on the ‘kill list’ – and that the Government must afford him his due process right to find out why.

The Government’s lawyers subsequently sought to have the case thrown out on the grounds that it would prejudice national security if state secrets were to be revealed at trial – effectively arguing that the U.S. drone programme operates beyond the reach of the Constitution, even when it targets Americans.

In their response to the Government’s motion to dismiss, Mr Kareem’s lawyers, Lewis Baach Kaufmann Middlemiss and Reprieve, write: “By invoking the state secrets privilege in the context of designating a U.S. citizen for lethal action, the government seeks to shield itself from all inquiry into the process by which it acts as prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner of plaintiff Bilal Abdul Kareem.

“The consequences of this action are too severe, and the right [to due process] too foundational to a constitutional democracy, to allow the government to secretly condemn an American citizen to death”.

Lawyers for the Government previously argued that offering Mr Kareem an opportunity to present evidence that he has been targeted for assassination would in itself constitute due process, but that the Government is under no legal obligation to respond. Mr Kareem’s lawyers write: “Due process would not be satisfied by limiting the accused to unilaterally contending that he is innocent of unknown charges in the hopes of persuading a silent, opaque coterie of government officials not to kill him.”

Reprieve’s Jennifer Gibson, co-counsel for Mr Kareem, said: “The Government’s assertion that it has the right to mark its own citizens for death, based on secret information, without affording them the legal protections offered by the Constitution, is chilling. Denying Mr Kareem his right to meaningful due process, on the grounds of national security, would set a dangerous and terrifying precedent.”

You can read or download the full legal filing here.