Journalists Sue Trump Over Inclusion on 'Kill List'

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Journalists Sue Trump Over Inclusion on 'Kill List'

'It is an affront to U.S. values that journalists are living in fear of being killed by U.S. drones, simply for doing their jobs'

 Members of CODEPINK take part in an anti-drone rally in 2014 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Stephen Melkisethian/flickr/cc)

Two journalists have sued President Donald Trump saying they are on the "Kill List"—an "illegal death sentence" that violates their constitutional rights and impedes their professional work, the lawsuit charges.

The plaintiffs are 46-year-old Bilal Abdul Kareem, a U.S. citizen and freelance journalist who reports on the ongoing conflict in Syria. The other, 54-year-old Ahmed Zaidan, is a senior journalist with Al Jazeera and is a Syrian and Pakistani citizen. In 1998 Zaidan was the first journalist to interview Osama Bin Laden, and his work has been featured on CNN and PBS's "Frontline."

The lawsuit (pdf) filed Thursday by human rights organization Reprieve and the Washington, D.C. law firm Lewis Baach in the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. argues: "Plaintiffs' inclusion on the Kill List is the result of arbitrary and capricious agency action, accomplished without due process, and in violation of the United States Constitution and U.S. and international law."

Their designation on the list, the suit argues, was due to the fact that 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."

And though the two journalists were put on list by President Barack Obama, that list has been inherited by Trump, who "has continued to include them on the Kill List and has, in addition, removed certain restrictions and criteria previously employed in the designation of persons to be included on the Kill List."

But the two have no connections to the September 11 terror attacks, have no association with Al Qaeda or the Taliban, and pose no threat, immediate or otherwise, to the United States, the suit says.

"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," said Jeffrey Robinson, attorney at Lewis Baach.

Outlining the urgency of their plea, the suit states: "During the past year, Kareem has narrowly avoided being killed by five separate air strikes, at least one of which was carried out by a drone."

A free and independent press is essential to the health of a functioning democracy

Their inclusion on the list constitutes a violation of their First Amendment rights; "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"; and has undermined their ability to continue their journalistic work effectively, the suit states.

As a result of the latter, people in the U.S. and beyond are being deprived "of important information and viewpoints about the conflicts in Syria and Pakistan and the War on Terror, interfering with their ability to participate effectively in the ongoing political debate regarding these matters," it adds.

"It is an affront to U.S. values that journalists are living in fear of being killed by U.S. drones, simply for doing their jobs," said Kate Higham, head of the Assassinations Project at Reprieve.

"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 Americans safer. President Trump must urgently review the entire targeting program, before any reporters are killed on his watch," she added.

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