Government Argues In Court That It Can Kill US Citizens At Will With Zero Judicial Oversight

from the your-tax-dollars-incoming dept

The federal government is back in court, arguing for its unilateral right to kill US citizens. Two journalists who had appeared to have been mistakenly targeted by drone strikes sued the government in 2017, seeking an injunction forbidding their own government from extrajudicially killing them.

The journalists, Ahmad Zaidan and Bilal Kareem, both experienced near misses by drone strikes. The suspicion they were mistakenly targeted was confirmed by an NSA document leaked by Ed Snowden that claimed Zaidan — an Al Jazeera journalist — was a member of Al Qaeda. His targeting was related to the government’s bulk collection of metadata, which would have placed Zaidan close to several Al Qaeda members. His proximity to Al Qaeda members was to be expected, given his coverage of Al Qaeda activity and other events/incidents in the areas he covered.

All it takes is metadata to get someone killed — even US citizens like Bilal Kareem who, like Zaidan, routinely covered Al Qaeda activity and spoke to Al Qaeda members. Kareem’s solo lawsuit demanding confirmation that he had been placed on the government’s kill list was terminated by the DC Circuit Court in 2019, which held that the information was too sensitive to share with US citizens possibly marked for death by their own government.

His joint lawsuit with Zaidan lives on, however. And it may finally provide the journalists with some answers. As Megan Mineiro reports for Courthouse News Service, the DC judges handling the case seemed rather shocked by the government’s assertions.

Drawing alarm at the D.C. Circuit, a lawyer for the United States argued Monday that the government has the power to kill its citizens without judicial oversight when state secrets are involved.

“Do you appreciate how extraordinary that proposition is?” U.S. Circuit Judge Patricia Millett asked Justice Department attorney Bradley Hinshelwood, paraphrasing his claim as giving the government the ability to “unilaterally decide to kill U.S. citizens.”

The “state secrets” assertion was the same claim used to escape Kareem’s solo lawsuit. But it doesn’t appear to be working quite as well this time — not when the government is saying it can engage in extrajudicial, extraterritorial killings of US citizens and other non-terrorists. “We kill people based on metadata,” a former US government official gleefully exclaimed in response to Snowden leaks. That still holds true, and it appears the government loses no sleep when it kills the wrong people based on flawed assumptions about patterns in its metadata stash.

The government’s alternate argument wasn’t much better. It basically claimed Kareem couldn’t prove the US targeted him because lots of people were throwing around bombs and missiles.

Shrugging off Kareem’s claims as baseless speculation, the government argued the alleged airstrikes occurred at a time when Syria was wracked by civil war.

“In all of these circumstances, he’s not even the only person present, much less is there anything to suggest that he’s actually the target of any of these specific attacks,” Hinshelwood said.

Of course, the government could easily prove it never targeted these journalists by handing over information about the contested drone strikes. But it won’t. It would rather argue it can kill whoever it wants without oversight or judicial review. The government would rather make this bold statement in open court than submit classified info directly to judges and lawyers with security clearance that would confirm or refute the placement of the plaintiffs on kill lists. The government’s priorities are incredibly screwed up. And we have a long and pointless “war on terror” to thank for its refusal to answer questions about its drone strike programs — programs that may well be targeting innocent people (including US citizens).

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Comments on “Government Argues In Court That It Can Kill US Citizens At Will With Zero Judicial Oversight”

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Nashua says:

Re: forget the courts

yeah, SCOTUS has ignored such anti-constitutional outrages for decades, along with all modern Presidents and most all Congressmen.

The three Federal Branches obviously view the Bill of Rights as a mere suggestion.

Seems to be a critical flaw in the fundamental legal structure of the U.S. government. The internal Checks & Balances prove illusory.

Elections have not solved the problem. What are the options left for average Americans?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: forget the courts

Seems to be a critical flaw in the fundamental legal structure of the U.S. government. The internal Checks & Balances prove illusory.

It is the duty of the Citizenry to hold the government to account.

Those checks and balances only work when there is enough people willing to defend them and their fellow citizens in government. They fail otherwise. If there is an issue with the checks and balances (and there is in the current government), then it means the Citizenry has failed to perform it’s duty to elect people willing to defend them.

Elections have not solved the problem. What are the options left for average Americans?

Well, if people would vote based on voting records and actually hold them accountable when the elected officials fuck up it would go a long way. Unfortunately, the Citizenry doesn’t give a fuck about previous screw ups and unfulfilled promises when voting time comes around. Many even refuse to vote, but then bitch about the results of the election they refused to vote in, only to refuse to vote again when the next chance comes around.

I’d say getting people to care about both voting and who and what they are voting for should be the highest priority on your list.

As for your "expected" response: I won’t lie. Many people will probably be ready to break open the ammo box come January if those protections expire and no new relief for working class Americans comes. Being kicked out of one’s home in the dead of winter, without any job prospects, no food, and a global pandemic still raging, will make people pretty damn desperate and angry. Worse, they’ll have nothing left to lose. Personally, I hope it doesn’t come to that, but I’d be lying if I saw any evidence of avoiding that outcome currently.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: forget the courts

"It is the duty of the Citizenry to hold the government to account"

That is a last resort.

It is the duty of the members of government to hold the government to account, they have been remiss in this duty.

There are several levels of checks and balances within government that are supposed to counter corrupt politicians but you want to blame the victims, I think I have heard this story before.

Hopefully the American Taliban show some restraint when accepting their defeat at the polls.

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Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Failure of checks and balances

It is the duty of the Citizenry to hold the government to account.

With artillery.

If the government cannot govern without the intervention of the people, then government has failed.

And as it is, the soap box, the ballot box and the jury box have all been compromised.

There’s only one box of liberty left and it’s not pretty.

So if we are forced to open it, we need to send a message that reverberates across centuries, that plutocrats fear ever again pissing off the proletariat.

And this is to say Napoleon wasn’t loud enough when the Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys put their bootprints in every face across Europe.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Footprints

And this is to say Napoleon wasn’t loud enough when the Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys put their bootprints in every face across Europe.

Oh, those French fellows put their bootprints just about everywhere. In the mud. In the snow. In the soft grey ashes of the bright bonfire of Moscow.

Later on, after the ashes of the bonfire of Moscow had chilled, after the boots wore out, the red’d snow printed bare feet.

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That One Guy (profile) says:

'Law and order!... unless we want to kill someone.'

Well that’s not horrifying and indicative of a sociopathic and murderous government at all.

‘We should be allowed to kill anyone we want without oversight, potential targets of our attempts have no legal standing to object unless they can prove that we tried to kill them however as we don’t have any obligation or duty to say whether we did or not that’s quite literally an impossible standard to meet.’

I dearly hope that the judge’s apparent incredulity and horror will be followed by a ruling in favor of the journalists for all sorts of reasons, because the alternative would be a legal abomination and affront to the country that would be notable even amongst the other atrocities of the Trump presidency.

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That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: 'Law and order!... unless we want to kill someone.'

Ignoring for a moment that it’s Trump’s administration making the argument that they have the right to kill whoever they want, so at best you’ve got an atrocity started by Obama but continued and defended by Trump, let’s see the rest of that paragraph shall we?

While plaintiffs were placed on the Kill List by his predecessor, on information and belief, defendant Trump 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. Through counsel, plaintiffs wrote to President Trump on January 20, 2017, seeking assurances that he would not continue the efforts to kill them. Defendant Trump has not replied

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: 'Law and order!... unless we want to kill someone.'

This is correct, Trump continued Obama policies and made them worse in some respect. There was only one very positive thing done by Trump, he did not start any new war. But he continued all the wars he inherited with additional brutality and illegal practices.
Nevertheless, what is worrying is that the new president was VP when Obama added a new set of barbarian extra-judiciary policies, so at least for the next 4 years the odds are that nothing will change in the policy. In fact, it would be reasonable to expect things to get even worse given the choices for the national security circle that Biden made. Nothing said in the campaign, in Biden’s history or in the history of the people he chose for his team (the self described "propagandist in chief", to name one) gives hope for anything else.

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 'Law and order!... unless we want to kill someon

" There was only one very positive thing done by Trump, he did not start any new war."

The war on truth, facts and the American way will be Trump’s legacy. He wanted to be King and ended up a pauper.

I am a bit concerned about the next shithead who tries this.

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: 'Law and order!... unless we want to kill someone.'

Also maybe you missed all the articles here regarding Obama in this and similar regards.

Who are those who are always first and loudest to yell "politicization!" whenever it seems to suit them? Hmm, i forget.

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Anonymous Coward says:

So the gov't can be trusted to not lie?

Of course, the government could easily prove it never targeted these journalists by handing over information about the contested drone strikes.

I think that’s Masnick’s true view, that gov’t never lies.

As with Google way back supposedly telling us how many info requests, we have NO way of checking those, but Masnick believed the numbers, regardless.

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Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Government never lies

I think that’s giving Government the benefit of doubt, assuming that the the operators didn’t mean to target press personnel, and the mission did not intend to clear civilians from the kill zone.

We have plenty of incidents during Operation Iraqi Freedom in which civilians were massacred from an area just for being in the wrong place and we didn’t want witnesses. Then we didn’t use drone strikes but PMCs to sweep and clear. And any journalists caught up in such actions ended up MIA. Disappeared.

The question isn’t whether Government lies, but who in government lies, and why, and did they lie this time?

And I’m pretty sure that’s a level of nuance Masnick gets.

Also, maybe the government should lie less, so that the public doesn’t suspect wrongdoing every fucking time we detect a lie. Also the public does detect lies, and we suspect wrongdoing every last time, because we’ve seen so much of it before that was covered up with lies.

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Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: "started this President-as-assassin-in-chief mess"

Hahahahaha! No.

First off, it’s not assassination if it’s targeted killing see, until very very recently (I’ll get to that), the US has had a no assassination policy ever since a botched run of attempts on Fidel Castro way back when we thought he was the Red Menace Incarnate. It was very embarrassing and many CIA operatives were sent to bed without dinner.

So instead of sending a ninja to kill our target, we just drop a bomb on him. This was our approach when Bab al-Azizia was added to the list of targets on the 1986 US bombing raid of Libya. It didn’t work. Gaddafi escaped from his bunker in time, but at least no-one got flak for a botched assassination.

But the Disposition Matrix is a continuation of George W. Bush policy. In the Bush administration the drone strike test-balloon programs were started, and became a way to give the CIA teeth without military support (which was awkward). Before we put Hellfire missiles on Predators, we used the drones to scout and sent PMCs in to grease our targets. Since they weren’t officially American troops, they had a lot of latitude as to who they could kill and what they could do to people before killing them.

Does that sound really awful? Because, yeah it is.

Anyhow, years and years later, now that CIA drone-strike programs are a regular thing and they still have a ratio of fifty civilian deaths to one person-of interest killed (because the US doesn’t assassinate), we might be deciding that maybe assassination is okay after all, now by ninja missile which hits a single target, rather than burning down a village and killing truckloads of children.

But it means we have to go back to assassinations rather than dropping bombs on a place where we hope someone might be, and killing all his neighbors.

So this is to say, yeah, Obama was a dick, but he was a dick in a long, long history of American dicks, and since plenty of them were GOP dicks that led to Trump getting into office, who was eager to expand the drone-strike targeted killings program, hadn’t it been that piloting drones and burning villages and massacring children is kinda hard on the drone operators, and most of them have lost their minds.

If Trump did expand the program outside Afghanistan and Pakistan, it hasn’t leaked to me, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

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Anonymous Coward says:

I can’t wait till local law enforcement gets a hold of this via their weekend warrior free stuff program. No more having to chase down the perp to put a knee on their wind pipe, you can target them with your new fangled drone, takes ’em out with ease, no warrant required as we doan need no stinkin due process.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re:

"No more having to chase down the perp to put a knee on their wind pipe, you can target them with your new fangled drone…"

There’ll be complaints, you know. A lot of cops prefer that personal touch, and quite a lot will say no longer being able to feel the life slipping away beneath their hands takes all the fun out of it.

I wish I could say there’s a very dark /s to go with that assertion.

BVP says:

So they're guilty then?

If the government truly believes it has the right to kill it’s own citizens then they should have no problem admitting they did it in this case. That they won’t, implies either it’s true they targetted these people or they don’t truly believe the argument they are putting forth. Either way it speaks volumes about the government and it’s ridiculousness.

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virusdetected (profile) says:

"…a lawyer for the United States argued Monday that the government has the power to kill its citizens without judicial oversight when state secrets are involved."

I cannot believe that someone who graduated from a law school and was admitted to the bar in some state would say this. I guess they skipped the Bill of Rights at that law school. Nonetheless, the lawyer should be disbarred just for saying it in front of a judge.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Well… Rudy says a lot of stupid stuff without being paid for it, and given the track record of Trump’s business dealings is he ever actually going to be paid for his "work"? So far he’s not even doing lawyer work, he’s just holding increasingly embarrassing press conferences to distract from Trump having gone suspiciously quiet (in person anyway) since his election defeat.

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

really? Must of forget the 4 Piece deals Trump signed off on in the middle east. SOmething no past president has been able to do. he had most in the pipeline, which I’m now going to assume will never come to be under Biden.

It was Obama/Biden bombing American’s and bombing many innocent people over there. In fact dropping far, far more bombs than BUSH ever did. Where was Code Pink? They were all over BUSH for his bombs and yet nowhere for Obama. Obama/Biden also got us into new wars.

Trump? In his first 2 years, still bombing, but stopped all that. In fact has been pulling American’s out. He was lied to about how Many American’s were still there which is why he just fired a bunch of people. He’s been trying to bring back most American troops home by Christmas. Others have been fighting him all this time to stop that.

Now we will be back with Biden. Corrupt Biden, who somehow after 47 years in GOVERNMENT, managed to become a Multi-Millionaire. How does that happen? I can see him sending troops right on back and getting us into yet another war. A person who voted YES every single time they wanted to raise taxes!!! A person who was caught many times Plagerizing others. A person on Camera caught a number of times Hair Sniffing and touching kids inappropriately. A person with Dementia. As in half a brain these days. How the F could anyone vote for this guy is beyond me.

I will be surprised if Biden lasts a year as President before he’s gone because of so-called Medical Reasons and then Kamala takes over and that’s even worse. Only 3% of Democrats voted for her. She will never win a second term. Like with President Carter and his only 4 years,.. There will be a huge Red Wave, which we ended up with Ragean for 8 years the last time!!!!

With Biden, already know it’ll be masks and lockdowns for the whole country for another YEAR. He is going to be acting like a Dictator to force the states to do this. Taxes will be going up for everyone. Gas prices will be going up. Electricity prices will be going up as a bunch more regulations are put into place. All Biden’s policy’s will in the end hurt the poor and middle class the worst. If this is what people wanted, great, Glad to watch it happen once again. Interest rates should also start shooting up as it did under Carter. I think people forget what it can be like, or were not alive yet. So haven’t gotten to experience it. So be it.

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