US Citizen wins right to challenge inclusion on ‘kill list’ in court

June 14, 2018

Bilal Abdul Kareem, a US citizen who believes he has been targeted for assassination by his own government, has won the right to challenge his presumed inclusion on the Kill List in court.

“Due process is not merely an old and dusty procedural obligation,” wrote federal judge Rosemary Collyer, in her ruling partially denying the Government’s motion to dismiss the case. “Instead, it is a living, breathing concept that protects US persons from over-reaching government action even, perhaps, on an occasion of war.”

Mr Kareem is a American journalist who has been reporting on the conflict from Syria since it began. In 2016, he narrowly escaped being killed 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. He believes the US Government has mistakenly identified him as a terrorist, for interviewing rebel fighters and other groups in Syria, a vital part of his journalistic work.

Under the Presidential Policy Guidance, issued in 2013 under Barack Obama, 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 Kareem. Today’s ruling recognises that the courts have a role to play where due process rights are at stake, even where those claims challenge military decisions.

“Mr. Kareem does not seek a ruling that a strike by the U.S. military was mistaken or improper. He seeks his birthright instead: a timely assertion of his due process rights under the Constitution to be heard before he might be included on the Kill List and his First Amendment rights to free speech before he might be targeted for lethal action due to his profession,” wrote Judge Collyer.

The court found that Mr Kareem’s co-plaintiff, Ahmed Muaffaq Zaidan, does not have standing to bring the lawsuit. Mr Zaidan is a senior reporter at Al-Jazeera, formerly the network’s Pakistan bureau chief. He returned to Qatar in 2015, fearing for his life, after a National Security Agency briefing labelling him a “member of Al-Qa’ida” was leaked by Edward Snowden.

Tara Plochocki, a partner with Lewis Baach Kaufmann Middlemiss pllc and counsel for the plaintiffs, said:

“We are gratified that the Court recognised that, as a U.S. citizen, Mr. Kareem, has the right to be heard in Court before his government can decide to kill him, and we look forward to these proceedings continuing to a final resolution. While we are disappointed that the Court did not grant Mr. Zaidan the same opportunity, allowing Mr. Kareem’s claims to proceed is a significant victory for constitutional protections and due process in the face of government claims of national security.”

Jennifer Gibson, who leads Reprieve’s assassinations project, said:

“Today was a huge win, not just for Bilal Abdul Kareem, but for all those who believe we must protect that most cherished of American values – due process. For too long, the US Government has sentenced people to death in secret, including American citizens, denying them their constitutionally-guaranteed right to walk through the courthouse doors and defend themselves. Today’s ruling reminds everyone that we cannot just ignore the Constitution in the name of national security.”