By Julia Conley
Lawyers for an American journalist who believes he was placed on the “Disposition Matrix” (informally known as the US government’s infamous “kill list” developed by John Brennan within the Obama administration) warned Tuesday that the rights of all U.S. citizens are at stake if the country’s drone assassination program is allowed to continue.
The organization’s comments came as part of a response to the U.S. government’s attempt to dismiss a lawsuit regarding its use of the list. Reprieve is representing Bilal Abdul Kareem, a journalist and U.S. citizen who claims he was repeatedly targeted — and nearly killed on five separate occasions — by drone and missile attacks in 2016 when he was reporting on the ongoing conflict in Syria.
Kareem joined an Al Jazeera journalist in 2017 in a lawsuit against the government, demanding that the Trump administration remove their names from the “kill list” of potential targets for the U.S. drone program.
If the government manages to have the lawsuit dismissed, legal experts warn it would allow the Trump administration and future presidents to secretly place any American on a kill list without telling them why, therefore stripping them of their constitutional right to due process.
“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.” —Jennifer Gibson, Reprieve
“The right to due process has been a bedrock of the judicial system, and one of the pillars that support a free society going back eight centuries to the Magna Carta,” wrote Tom Emswiler and Will Isenberg in the Boston Globe last summer. “It is the birthright of every American. Gaining a tactical advantage is not worth losing that heritage.”
As reported by Commom Dreams at the time of the original filing, Kareem believes the Obama administration placed him on the kill list and wants President Donald Trump to remove his name, asserting that his inclusion “is the result of arbitrary and capricious agency action, accomplished without due process, and in violation of the United States Constitution and U.S. and international law.”
The government responded that if those included on the U.S. kill list were to be informed and given a trial, national security could be jeopardized during the court case.
Such a claim suggests that the right of the U.S. to operate its drone program trumps Kareem’s — and all Americans’ — Fifth and 14th Amendment rights, Reprieve said.
“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,” said Reprieve and the law firm Lewis Baach Kaufmann Middlemiss, which is also representing Kareem, in a statement Tuesday.
The government, in its motion to dismiss, said that Kareem’s due process rights would be satisfied simply by allowing him to present evidence that he has been wrongly placed on the kill list, and that the government was under no obligation to repond.
Reprieve rejected that argument, saying it was akin to “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.”
“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,” said Jennifer Gibson, co-counsel for Kareem.
“The consequences of this action are too severe,” Reprieve added, “and the right [to due process] too foundational to a constitutional democracy, to allow the government to secretly condemn an American citizen to death.”
Last month, the Trump administration reversed an Obama-era policy requiring US intelligence services to report the number of civilians killed by American drones.
On March 6, Trump signed an executive order revoking the requirement for intelligence agencies to publicly announce the number of non-combatants killed by US drone strikes or other attacks on terrorist targets outside of war zones.
The reported justification for revocation is that Congress has already passed new legislation on the reporting of civilian casualties and Obama’s executive order is therefore redundant. The Trump administration labelled Obama’s executive order as “superfluous” and “distracting” to intelligence agencies according to the BBC.
The problem with that argument is that the Congressional legislation only requires reporting on civilians deaths for military operations. Many US drone strikes occur in non-military zones. This means that should the US launch a “targeted” assassination attempt on an Al Qaeda lieutenant, and the Hellfire missile happens to veer off, “accidentally” killing 20 women and children in the process, the Trump administration would be under no legal obligation to make that information known to the public.
Critics of the move argue that the lack of transparency will allow the likes of the CIA to carry out their “targeted killing program” with no accountability for the toll paid by innocent civilians.
* This article was expanded from original source published April 2, 2019 by Common Dreams.