The US Government has asked the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to affirm the dismissal of American journalist Bilal Abdul Kareem’s challenge to his Government’s apparent decision to assassinate him without telling him why, or affording him the constitutional right to due process.
Mr Kareem is a recipient of the Edward R. Murrow and Peabody Awards, who grew up in Mount Vernon, New York, and used to be a stand-up comedian in New York City. He has been reporting on the conflict from Syria since it began. In 2016, he narrowly escaped being killed on five separate occasions, including two strikes on cars he was travelling in and a further two strikes on the headquarters of his news agency, On The Ground News. He believes the US Government has mistakenly identified him as a terrorist for interviewing armed groups in Syria, a vital part of his journalistic work. Bilal exposes the untold stories of the Syria conflict and aims to build cross-cultural dialogue between East and West. He was inspired by his mother, Phyliss Phelps – a journalist during the civil rights era and a lifelong member of the NAACP and Rainbow Coalition.
In June 2018, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that Mr Kareem had presented a plausible case that he had been placed on the ‘kill list’ – and that, if true, then the Government must afford him ordinary due process rights, rejecting the suggestion that this was a solely “political question” delegated to the president. However, on a second motion to dismiss the US Government succeeded on the grounds that the case could not be heard without reference to state secrets, the disclosure of which would prejudice national security. The district court’s dismissal of Mr Kareem’s case means that the government may target an American journalist in secret, without reference to the US Constitution.
Mr Kareem appealed the district court’s decision to the US Court of Appeal for the District of Columbia Circuit, arguing that whether a US journalist is on the kill list should not be a “state secret” and that the lower court’s ruling simply allows for the death penalty without any due process. The US Government filed its brief in response to Mr Kareem’s appeal last evening, asserting that the need to preserve “state secrets” trumps a US citizen’s constitutional right to life and that the case poses a political rather than a legal question – the latter argument one that was failed in the district court. At a time when the presumption of guilt and state sanctioned violence dominates our news feeds, Bilal Abdul Kareem is simply asking ‘Are you trying to kill me? And if so, why?’
Mr Kareem responded: “When I was growing up, I always had a strong sense of justice. My mother instilled this in me, but I also saw it as an American value. I believed that if you were doing anything you shouldn’t be doing, you would have your time to plead your case in court. But now, I am being denied that right. I live in fear of my own Government, because I work as a journalist – to expose and challenge different perspectives and build understanding across cultures. Here, in Syria, in one of the most violent wars the world has seen, I try to champion those same ideas of justice, transparency and accountability. If only my Government would do the same.”
Maya Foa of Reprieve, said: “It should be unthinkable that the US Government would seek to extrajudicially execute an American journalist reporting from a war zone without telling him why he’s being targeted, or giving him any opportunity to challenge this. Ignoring the Constitution when it doesn’t suit you is the behavior of dictators and despots. The US Government must stop hiding behind ‘state secrets’ to avoid affording Mr Kareem due process — his most basic right as an American.”