In a major victory for all who believe the U.S. government should not have the power to sentence people to death in secret, a federal judge on Wednesday greenlighted a lawsuit brought by an American freelance journalist who claims he was placed on a classified "kill list" by the Obama administration and targeted by five separate drone strikes.
"Can Donald Trump secretly plot to assassinate American journalists? Judge Collyer says no."
—Clive Stafford Smith, Reprieve
"Due process is not merely an old and dusty procedural obligation," U.S. District Court Judge Rosemary Collyer said in her ruling allowing the case to proceed. "Instead, it is a living, breathing concept that protects U.S. persons from overreaching government action."
The "kill list" lawsuit was initially filed last year by the human rights group Reprieve on behalf of American journalist Bilal Abdul Kareem, who says he was erroneously deemed a "militant" by the Obama administration while reporting from Syria.
Celebrating the judge's ruling on Thursday as a leap over the "first hurdle," Reprieve's Clive Stafford Smith wrote on Twitter: "Can Donald Trump secretly plot to assassinate American journalists? Judge Collyer says no."
"Today was a huge win, not just for Bilal Abdul Kareem, but for all those who believe we must protect that most cherished of American values—due process," Jennifer Gibson, the head of Reprieve's assassinations project, added in a statement following Wednesday's ruling. "We cannot just ignore the Constitution in the name of national security."
“For too long, the U.S. Government has sentenced people to death in secret, including American citizens, denying them their constitutionally-guaranteed right to walk through the courthouse doors and defend themselves.” - Reprieve’s @jennifermgibson https://t.co/incOTPae4a
— Reprieve (@Reprieve) June 14, 2018
While Kareem maintains that he was placed on the secretive kill list by the Obama White House, his suit initially named President Donald Trump as the lead defendant in the case, arguing that Trump has kept him on the list.
In her ruling on Wednesday, however, Collyer dismissed Trump as the lead defendant for "technical reasons." The case will instead proceed against a number of government agencies, including the Justice Department, the Defense Department, and the Central Intelligence Agency.