Journalists Sue Trump For Being Kept On Government 'Kill List'

Two journalists sue President Donald Trump and other high-ranking U.S. officials for being incorrectly kept on government 'kill list,' making them a target for drones.

An MQ-9 Reaper taxis after a mission in Afghanistan. Wikimedia Commons: U.S. Air Force

Two journalists have filed a lawsuit against President Donald Trump and other top U.S. officials, claiming that they are on the government's "kill list" and targeted for drone strikes. 

Former Al Jazeera Islamabad Bureau Chief Ahmad Zaidan and freelance journalist Bilal Kareem were placed on the list during the Obama administration. Trump has not only incorrectly kept them on the list, but they claim he has also removed previous restrictions and criteria used to designate listees. 

The lawsuit states that Zaidan and Kareem were initially put on the list because their "travel, communications, social media content and contacts, related data, and metadata have been input into 'algorithms' used by the United States to identify terrorists." Both men argue that their sensitive work as journalists has been mistaken for collusion with terrorists organizations and has unfairly landed them in the U.S. government's cross-hairs.

Kareem, a U.S. citizen who has reported from Syria in recent years, says that, over the past year, he has almost died in five air strikes. Zaidan, a Pakistani and Syrian citizen, says that he was forced to leave his post at Al Jazeera in Pakistan and take a position in Qatar when The Intercept published Edward Snowden's leaks; the leaked files showed that U.S. officials believe Zaidan is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and Al-Qaeda, potentially because of his series of interviews with Osama Bin-Laden. Zaidan insists that he is not a member of either group.

"The inclusion of reporters on a U.S. 'Kill List' on the basis of their metadata makes a mockery of due process, and will do nothing to make America safer," said Kate Higham of Reprieve, the human rights organization which partnered with the law firm Lewis Baach to file the lawsuit on the journalists' behalf. Filed in the U.S. District Court of Columbia on Thursday, the suit's defendants include Defense Secretary James Mattis, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, CIA Director Mike Pompeo, and Trump, among other high-ranking officials. It states that the government's decision to leave them on the list is in violation of the First Amendment and undermines their journalistic work:

"[Their inclusion on the list] is a direct result of their activities arising out of and necessary to their work as journalists covering the conflict in Syria, the War on Terror, and other matters."

Essentially, their placement on the list renders their First Amendment rights useless and amplifies the risks they already take as journalists in hotspots of violence. The suit contends that this negatively impacts the coverage of Syria, Pakistan, and the War on Terror by making important information and necessary perspectives inaccessible to the global public. 

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

Kareem and Zaidan's inclusion on the list is not only a dangerous mistake, but capricious, arbitrary, and, the suit also argues, unconstitutional. Neither man was given access to avenues that would allow them to contest the accusations against them or their status as threats to the U.S. Robinson said he sees this lawsuit as a chance to establish due process for those who deny that there is any reason for them to be on a government "kill list."

It is an opportunity to establish protections for those working from the middle of delicate, international conflicts and will hopefully lead the charge on making sure journalists have the full support of democracy if they are to do their jobs.

Banner and thumbnail credit: Flickr user Mstyslav Chernov

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