Journalists challenge drones ‘Kill List’ in federal court

May 1, 2018

Two journalists – one an American citizen and another an acclaimed reporter for the international news network Al Jazeera – will challenge their inclusion in the US’s classified ‘Kill List’ for the first time in federal court on Tuesday, 1 May 2018.

Judge Rosemary M. Collyer has taken the unusual step of ordering an oral hearing into whether the court can hear the matter. The Trump Administration is arguing, in part, that its ability to add individuals, including Americans, to a ‘Kill List’ is beyond the court’s review.

Bilal Abdul Kareem is an American citizen, who has been reporting on the conflict in Syria since it began. In 2016, he narrowly escaped being killed by drone strikes on five separate occasions, including two strikes on cars he was travelling in and a further two strikes on the headquarters of his news agency, On the Ground News, while he was present.

Ahmad Zaidan, a senior reporter at Al-Jazeera, was formerly the network’s Pakistan bureau chief and the first person to interview Osama bin Laden in the 1990s. Top secret US documents show SKYNET, a US computer program, has falsely classified Mr Zaidan as an Al Qaeda courier based upon an analysis of his ‘metadata’. SKYNET, run by the National Security Agency, identifies targets based on their phone calls and travel patterns as opposed to any direct evidence of illegality. Former CIA Director, Michael Hayden, has also publicly stated, “We kill people based on metadata.”

Mr Zaidan has travelled extensively in Pakistan to interview senior leaders of terrorist groups. Mr Kareem is one of the few Western journalists to interview rebel groups within, including some the US has declared terrorists.

The two men are asking the court to order their removal from any lists of individuals targeted for lethal action, and asked the court to ascertain whether the Administration followed its own procedures in identifying them as targets in the first instance.

Commenting, Jennifer Gibson, head of Reprieve’s drones project and lawyer for both men, said: 

“Bilal and Ahmed are journalists, not terrorists. All they are asking for is the chance to prove it. Yet, the government seeks to deny them that chance. In doing so, he is asking the courts to jettison the very value, which sets America apart from dictatorships and despots –due process. The courts must not let him. The executive should not be allowed to act as judge, jury and executioner unchecked. In a country founded on the rule of law, these men have a right to challenge the government’s decision to kill them.”

Tara Plochocki, Partner at Lewis Baach Kaufman Middlemiss PLLC, said: 

“The government has acknowledged that it maintains a “Kill List” of suspected terrorists, and that there is a process to determine who should be included on that list.  The plaintiffs were incorrectly placed on the kill list.  They have the right to make the case that the government got it wrong.”

 Notes to Editors:

1. Under the Presidential Policy Guidance, issued in 2013 under Barack Obama but still in effect, only people who pose a “continuing, imminent threat to U.S. persons” may be targeted outside conventional war zones – a definition that clearly excludes Mr Zaidan and Mr Kareem. The men’s lawsuit requests that the DC District Court issue an injunction requiring the government to abide by these guidelines, remove their names from the kill list, and cease conducting drone strikes against them.

3. Please follow these links for the complaint and the government’s response.