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