Jour­nal­ists Go To Court To Get Off U.S. Kill List

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We live in an ex­tremely bizarre and fright­en­ing era when Amer­i­can cit­i­zens are put on a kill list by an ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence com­puter sys­tem called Skynet which has de­cided that the per­son is un­de­sir­able and might op­pose the U.S.

Jour­nal­ists Bi­lal Ab­dul Ka­reem and Ah­mad Muaf­faq Zaidan are con­vinced they’ve been tar­geted for death by the U.S. They sued on March 30, 2017, to get off that list. They in part blame bad al­go­rithms for why they were put on the list in the first place, but that doesn't ex­plain why they re­main on it.

Their case is in the news now a lit­tle over one year later, as a fed­eral judge on June 13 ruled against the fed­eral government in at­tempt­ing to have the case dis­missed.

Bi­lal Ab­dul Ka­reem is a free­lance jour­nal­ist who also hap­pens to be a U.S. cit­i­zen. He has the dis­tinc­tion of be­ing one of the few West­ern jour­nal­ists who have at­tempted to cover the Syr­ian civil war from the re­bel­held side. Those rebels are mostly mer­ce­nar­ies paid to op­pose Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar al-ashad.

Ka­reem is a na­tive of New York and a con­vert to Is­lam. His re­port­ing cre­den­tials in­clude stints with Skynews, the BBC, On the Ground Net­work and CNN. It was at CNN where he was a ma­jor part of that net­work’s se­ries, “The Truth About Syria: Un­der­cover Be­hind Rebel Lines”. In his job as a jour­nal­ist Ka­reem has had to pro­tect him­self from crit­i­cism for not just the Syr­ian rebel po­si­tions, but also his cov­er­age of groups af­fil­i­ated with al-qaida and ISIS and the CIA. Crit­i­cism is okay and comes with the job. Ka­reem has also sur­vived five airstrikes while re­port­ing in Syria that he be­lieves are from the U.S. Ka­reem ex­pects more to come and even­tu­ally he will be killed.

The co-plain­tiff in the law­suit filed with Ka­reem is Ah­mad Muaf­faq Zaidan, a bureau chief at news ser­vice Al Jazeera. He is a cit­i­zen of Syria and Pak­istan. He too be­lieves he is on a kill list from the U.S. government based on an ar­ti­cle pub­lished by The In­ter­cept in 2015. That re­port showed part of a Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency Power Point pre­sen­ta­tion be­ing made at the time by Ed­ward Snow­den. Jef­frey Robin­son, the at­tor­ney from Wash­ing­ton-based Lewis Bach rep­re­sent­ing both Zaidan and Ka­reem, says Zaidan saw in that document that the U.S. had named him as a mem­ber of both the Muslim Brother­hood and al-qaida, and had placed him on a ter­ror watch list.

Zaidan has not to his knowl­edge been tar­geted yet for drone strikes. Upon learn­ing of his be­ing on the list in Snow­den’s pre­sen­ta­tion, how­ever, he felt forced to leave his pre­vi­ous home re­port­ing base in Islamabad, Pak­istan, and has moved to Qatar, the lo­ca­tion of Al Jazeera’s head­quar­ters. Ac­cord­ing to the com­plaint, Zaidan is in suf­fi­cient and jus­ti­fied fear for his life that

he “can leave Qatar to con­tinue his work as a jour­nal­ist only at his peril”.

Both Zaidan and Ka­reem deny any in­volve­ment with ter­ror groups or plan­ning of ter­ror at­tacks.

Those named as de­fen­dants in the case in­clude Don­ald Trump, Michael Pom­peo (CIA Di­rec­tor at the time of the com­plaint fil­ing), De­fense Sec­re­tary James Mat­tis, John Kelly (now Trump’s Chief of Staff but for­merly Sec­re­tary of Home­land Se­cu­rity at the time of the fil­ing), Di­rec­tor of Na­tional In­tel­li­gence Dan Coats and Ray­mond Mcmaster (then Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­vi­sor to Trump).

Zaidan is a bold and coura­geous jour­nal­ist who is one of only two re­porters to have in­ter­viewed Osama bin Laden be­fore 9/11. He also in­ter­viewed Al Nusra front leader Abu Mo­ham­mad al-jolani.

Both jour­nal­ists travel through­out re­gions la­beled as ter­ror ar­eas as part of their work. In their trav­els they in­ter­view ex­trem­ist lead­ers in those lo­ca­tions, of­ten pro­vid­ing some of the few such in­ter­views which the public ever sees.

While do­ing so, they ended up be­ing caught by a U.S. in­tel­li­gence pro­gram called Skynet. The ori­gin for the name of the real-life pro­gram is un­clear, but the name Skynet it­self first sur­faced as a com­puter-driven de­fense net­work – in the movie “Ter­mi­na­tor” -- that has the goal of de­stroy­ing the hu­man race. As the world learned from the In­ter­cept Ar­ti­cle Zaidan saw, the U.S. has its own pro­gram called Skynet which uses cell­phone track­ing in­for­ma­tion and other meta­data to find peo­ple who might be ter­ror­ists or who sim­ply op­pose the U.S.

As the law­suit says, “Skynet ‘ ap­plies com­plex com­bi­na­tions of geospa­tial, geotem­po­ral, pat­tern-oflife, and travel an­a­lyt­ics to bulk DNR data to iden­tify pat­terns of sus­pect ac­tiv­ity.” It goes on to say that, “Skynet may tar­get per­sons solely be­cause they fre­quently in­ter­act with so-called ‘mil­i­tants,’ even if for in­no­cent rea­sons like jour­nal­ists in­ter­view­ing sources.”

The se­lec­tion for the kill list is al­leged to be com­pletely com­puter-gen­er­ated in these cases. The com­plaint al­leges the Skynet sys­tem se­lected these two jour­nal­ists as likely ter­ror­ists, just be­cause of be­ing in what Skynet de­ter­mined were sus­pi­cious travel cir­cum­stances, too of­ten. They back up this as­ser­tion with a state­ment from for­mer Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency (NSA) di­rec­tor Michael Hay­den, who has said pub­licly in the past that, “We kill peo­ple based on meta­data.” As Kate Higham, head of the as­sas­si­na­tion project at the hu­man rights or­ga­ni­za­tion Re­prieve said, it is the lack of hu­man in­put in pars­ing the data that makes the pro­gram even worse. In a phone in­ter­view, she said that, “The ma­jor­ity of the ba­sis of [iden­ti­fi­ca­tions from the pro­gram] is flawed in­tel­li­gence – and flawed anal­y­sis of that in­tel­li­gence.” In the case of Zaidan and Ka­reem, Higham said that a hu­man be­ing who looked at the data for them might have come up with an al­ter­nate an­swer as to why their travel, so­cial-media post­ings and other in­ter­ac­tions looked sus­pi­cious.

Higham went on to say that the so-called sig­na­ture drone strikes are one com­po­nent of the U.S. as­sas­si­na­tion pro­gram. These are, she said, “taken against tar­gets who are per­haps not iden­ti­fied with their name or who they are, but sim­ply based on pat­tern of life anal­y­sis.” That “pat­tern of life”, she said, could in­clude where the sus­pects trav­eled to and who they spoke with.

The com­plaint fil­ing makes this “tar­get­ing by meta­data” con­clu­sion a ma­jor part of their ar­gu­ments against the de­fen­dants. “Agen­cies need not iden­tify a tar­get by name,” it says. “The PPG re­quires agen­cies con­duct­ing lethal ac­tion only to ‘em­ploy all rea­son­ably avail­able re­sources to ascer­tain the iden­tity of the tar­get so that ac­tion can be taken’.” The PPG is an acro­nym for “Pres­i­den­tial Pol­icy Guid­ance”, a for­mal de­scrip­tion of pro­ce­dures for those who will act against ter­ror tar­gets.

As the case pro­ceeded since its March 2017 fil­ing, at­tor­neys rep­re­sent­ing the U.S. government had asked U.S. Dis­trict Judge Rose­mary Col­lyer of the Dis­trict of Columbia to throw out the law­suit. Their grounds were that there was no way the plain­tiffs would ever be able to prove their case. That is be­cause, the government lawyers said, tar­get­ing de­ci­sions are clas­si­fied se­crets and the ex­ec­u­tive branch has full author­ity to run mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions as it sees fit out­side the coun­try.

In a de­ci­sion which just came down June 13, Judge Col­lyer sided with the plain­tiffs, say­ing that the U.S. does not have uni­lat­eral author­ity to tar­get a cit­i­zen for death. She wrote in her 30-page opin­ion that, “Due process is not merely an old and dusty pro­ce­dural obli­ga­tion…. It is a living, breath­ing con­cept that pro­tects U.S. cit­i­zens from over­reach­ing government ac­tion even, per­haps, on oc­ca­sion of war.”

Col­lyer gave very slight sup­port of one part of the government’s ar­gu­ments. She said that Ka­reem could not chal­lenge what he felt was hap­pen­ing to him as just ar­bi­trary un­der ad­min­is­tra­tive law or be­cause he felt it was il­le­gal by statute. In­stead, he had what is

ar­guably a pow­er­ful “birthright” as a cit­i­zen to claim con­sti­tu­tional rights to due process in be­ing tar­geted for killing, no mat­ter where he might be. He also had “First Amend­ment rights to free speech be­fore he might be tar­geted for lethal ac­tion due to his pro­fes­sion” as a jour­nal­ist.

Judge Col­lyer was less sup­port­ive of Zaidan’s po­si­tion that The In­ter­cept ar­ti­cle gave cre­dence that he too had been tar­geted for killing. She dis­missed his po­si­tion as “spec­u­la­tive” at best.

With the Judge at least sup­port­ing Ka­reem’s po­si­tion, the lawyers rep­re­sent­ing both plain­tiffs were op­ti­mistic go­ing for­ward. As Tara J. Plo­chocki, a part­ner with the firm rep­re­sent­ing them, said, “We are grat­i­fied that the court rec­og­nized 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.”

Though the out­come of this hearing may have been fa­vor­able in gen­eral for the plain­tiff side, a more se­ri­ous is­sue has been brew­ing on this at the White House. The Trump regime has dra­mat­i­cally in­creased drone and other types of air at­tacks and has been de­lib­er­ately tar­get­ing civil­ians who pose ab­so­lutely no threat to the U.S. and are ob­vi­ously tar­geted specif­i­cally to fo­ment ha­tred of the U.S. and cre­ate fur­ther op­po­si­tion to jus­tify a con­tin­ued mil­i­tary pres­ence and growth of the Amer­i­can war industry.

At the same time that the U.S. is pre­tended to fight ter­ror­ists is also fund­ing them, work­ing along­side them and di­rect­ing them.

While the U.S. does kill some peo­ple who pose a real threat to oth­ers, it is also killing in­no­cent peo­ple for no rea­son other than to boost war prof­its and in­crease the amount of tax­payer money si­phoned off through the Pen­tagon.

With Trump be­com­ing in­creas­ingly hos­tile to media this means that more jour­nal­ists are likely to be mur­dered, not just for profit but for Trump to get some re­venge against an industry that makes him feel hu­mil­i­ated.

If we don't op­pose the il­le­gal mur­der of in­no­cent peo­ple now, how long will it be be­fore Skynet starts tar­get­ing Amer­i­cans on U.S. soil?

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