Take me off Trump’s Kill List, journalists urge US courts

From reprieve.org.

Two journalists – one a US citizen, the other for the international news network Al Jazeera – who report on conflicts in the Middle East and South Asia, have asked a US court to order their removal from an American ‘Kill List’. 

Bilal Abdul Kareem, 46, is an American who reports on the conflict in Syria. A former stand-up comedian from New York City, Mr Kareem was one of the last journalists reporting from Aleppo until January of this year. Mr. Kareem has narrowly escaped death on several occasions, including strikes by US drones. He has recently received new information that his life is being targeted by the US.

Ahmed Zaidan, 54, is a senior journalist with Al Jazeera who until recently served as the network’s Islamabad Bureau Chief. He has won acclaim for his work with US outlets such as CNN and PBS, as well as for documentaries on Afghanistan and Pakistan. Mr Zaidan was the first journalist to interview Osama bin Laden.

Mr Kareem and Mr Zaidan have today filed a legal challenge against President Trump and CIA director Mike Pompeo over their inclusion on a US government ‘Kill List.’

The challenge refers to leaked top secret documents showing that SKYNET, a US computer program, has falsely classified Mr Zaidan as a courier for Al Qaeda, based upon an analysis of his ‘metadata.’ The program identifies targets who may be placed on the ‘Kill List’ based on their phone calls and travel patterns as opposed to any direct evidence of illegality. As a result, Mr Zaidan has fled Pakistan for fear of being targeted in a US drone strike, and is now based at Al Jazeera’s Qatar headquarters.

Legal documents filed pro bono by the international human rights organization Reprieve and Washington DC law firm Lewis Baach plc ask the court to order their removal from any lists of individuals targeted by the US to be killed, and includes a broader request that the Court order the US to adhere to legal standards when conducting drone strikes.

Covert US drone strikes have led to the deaths of several hundred civilians. The process by which the US compiles targeting lists is controversial; journalists may wind up on the list due to interviewing and visiting sources – despite posing no threat to the US.  Experts have called the method “scientifically unsound” and “ridiculously optimistic”.

The Trump Administration has already attracted criticism over its use of covert operations, and questions over the intelligence supporting them. In January, a botched raid on a village in Yemen saw at least 23 civilians killed, including a number of small children.

Commenting, Kate Higham – Head of the Assassinations Project at Reprieve –said: “It is an affront to US values that journalists are living in fear of being killed by US drones, simply for doing their jobs. The inclusion of reporters on a US ‘kill list’ on the basis of their metadata makes a mockery of due process, and will do nothing to make Americans safer. President Trump must urgently review the entire targeting program, before any reporters are killed on his watch.”

Jeffrey Robinson, attorney at Lewis Baach, said: “It is a basic principle of the rule of law that innocent people should not be targeted and killed.  This is especially the case with courageous journalists performing an essential function of keeping the public informed.

Notes to Editors

1. The complaint can be found here: http://www.reprieve.org/wp-content/uploads/2017.03.30-001-Zaidan-Complaint.pdf

2. Reprieve is an international human rights organization. Reprieve US, based in New York City, can be contacted on Katherine [dot] oshea [at] reprieve.org / +1 917 855 8064. Reprieve’s London office can be contacted on: communications [at] reprieve.org.uk / +44 (0) 207 553 8140.

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