US journalist demands to know: “Am I on the Kill List?”

November 13, 2020

An American journalist will challenge his apparent inclusion in the US’s classified ‘Kill List’ in federal court on Monday, 16 November 2020.

Bilal Abdul Kareem is a Peabody award-winning African American journalist who alleges that he has been targeted for assassination by the US because of his work covering the conflict in Syria. In 2016, he narrowly escaped being killed by five separate strikes, including an attack on his office and two strikes on cars in which he was travelling.

The case simply asks whether signals intelligence led the US to erroneously conclude that Mr Kareem should be added to the kill list, unaware that his meetings with various armed groups were for the purpose of conducting interviews.

The district court initially upheld Mr Kareem’s right to bring the case, holding due process was “not merely an old and dusty procedural obligation”, but instead “a living, breathing concept that protects US persons from over-reaching government action.”

When the government then claimed that the case required disclosure of privileged “state secrets”, the court felt constrained to dismiss the case. The appeal therefore presents a stark question: Can the US government issue secret death warrants for its own citizens in total secrecy, without any judicial review, even when that individual demands due process in a US court?

A three-judge panel will hear arguments in the case at 9:30am on Monday, 20 November. The hearing can be monitored live via the DC Circuit webpage.

Mr Bilal Abdul Kareem said: “I have always believed part of being an American meant if you were accused of doing something, you would be given the opportunity to plead your case in court. But now, here I am, standing at the courthouse doors and the US government is trying to deny me that opportunity. In Syria, in one of the most violent wars the world has seen, I try to champion the American ideals of justice, transparency and accountability. I hope the Court will see fit to uphold those same rights – my rights – here at home.”

Jennifer Gibson, Lead for Reprieve’s extrajudicial executions work and lawyer for Mr Kareem, said: “The Trump Administration is asking the courts to jettison the right to due process, a value which sets America apart from dictatorships. The executive should not be allowed to act as judge, jury and executioner unchecked. In a country founded on the rule of law, Americans must have a right to challenge a secret death sentence.”

Tara Plochocki, Partner at Lewis Baach Kaufman Middlemiss PLLC, representing Mr Kareem, said:  “What the government seeks to do in this case represents a radical expansion of the concept of a ‘state secret’.  The privilege has never been invoked to permit the government to bypass the Constitution in favor of summary execution, and we hope that the Court will not permit the government to do so here.

Clive Stafford Smith, international lawyer for Mr Kareem, said: “This case presents one of the most profound issues of human rights in our lifetime. Even George Orwell could not have imagined a lawyer from the ‘Department of Justice’ standing up in court to say the US president may order the CIA to execute an American journalist in total secrecy, without any judicial oversight.”

ENDS