On November 16, the Bilal Abdul Kareem case was argued in the District of Columbia Court of Appeals. The claim made by the Trump administration – and accepted by the federal judge in September 2019 – was that the US government could assassinate Bilal with a Hellfire missile fired from a Predator drone. Because it was a “national security” issue, neither Kareem nor the US Supreme Court should have any say in the matter.
Reprieve, the organization of lawyers fighting against state-sponsored human rights abuses and the pro bono DC firm of Lewis Baach Kaufmann Middlemiss initially brought the case on behalf of two people – Kareem and the journalist Al Jazeera Ahmad Zaidan. Kareem was raised in New York City by a devoted civil rights mother, and after wandering the comedian circuit for a while, he found his faith in Islam and decided to stand up for the rights of Muslims in Syria as a war. journalist. Zaidan was already in the media business, as head of Al Jazeera’s Islamabad bureau, and he got some scoops up to Osama bin Laden. As a result, he was falsely labeled a member of al-Qaeda by the CIA, which we learned from documents leaked by Edward Snowden.
The federal judge dismissed Zaidan’s case in his original order in 2018 because he had returned from Pakistan to Doha and was not considered realistically to fear death. But, originally, the judge ruled in favor of Kareem, believing that this black American had plausibly shown that his own government was trying to assassinate him. It was not clear why Kareem deserved to be executed – it was the CIA secret. Perhaps they had followed his movements to his interviews and did not like him broadcasting the opinions of a wide range of people involved in the Syrian civil war.
One thing was clear: five times he had narrowly avoided death. His office building had been hit twice and the United States owed him two vehicles that they apparently detonated moments after he got out. He found it hard to believe at the time of the first strike, but by the fifth he was sure his own country wanted him dead. After all, at the time, the United States was the only country to deploy armed drones in the region.
This is, ultimately, a case of President Barack Obama’s chickens returning home to roost in President Donald Trump’s White House. Obama was the one to speed up “execution without trial” as a bizarre replacement for “detention without trial” at Guantanamo Bay.
It did not set any limits on where those considered terrorists could be targeted. We could, he writes in his latest book, A Promised Land, track down “suspected terrorists mainly inside – but sometimes outside – the war zones of Afghanistan and Iraq”.
And he didn’t actually limit that to terrorists: 2009, inexorably, the list of victims began to include drug traffickers. Why not? We had a “war on drugs” long before the “war on terror”. President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines was allegedly responsible for 7,000 drug dealer deaths in his first year in office and bragging about personally murdering a drug dealer. He believes that the drug scourge is far more damaging to his society than terrorism.
It didn’t take long for the US Drug Enforcement Agency to claim that the Taliban were funded by the Afghan heroin trade, which quickly led to another euphemistic “kill list” (the “Joint List” priority effects ”, disclosed by Edward Snowden) including drug dealers for elimination.
Imagine the excitement of Donald Trump when he inherited this power. Now, in the last days of his presidency, lawyers for his Justice Department are pushing the Obama doctrine to its logical extreme. All Kareem wanted was assurance that his government wouldn’t try to kill him again, which might not seem like a big request. But that was a bridge too far for Trump’s attorneys on the appeal in the District of Columbia. They announced that anything related to who the president would like to be murdered was top secret – and they demanded that the judge respect a shiny line of “national security privilege” which they insisted allowed them to do what ‘they wanted, when they wanted, without the oversight of the courts or anyone else. Horribly, the federal judge agreed.
Obviously we have appealed to try to set the record straight. The judges of the Federal Court of Appeals also seemed shocked by the extent of Trump’s takeover. Yet the government lawyer went even further. Not only is it a matter of national security, he argued, but any White House plan to assassinate Kareem is also an unrevisable “political issue”. A judge demanded to know if Trump claimed absolute power to assassinate him as well, possibly sitting at his desk in the DC Circuit courthouse.
“Is there any difference between me and Kareem?” she asked the government lawyer incredulously. “You would still argue on the political issue like you do here. And you would discuss state secrets like you are doing here. And if we rule for you, it means I got watered. I can’t do anything about this death sentence.
“If your question is: can a court, once the privilege is properly invoked, “Trump’s lawyer replied, after some fog,” … under these circumstances the answer is no. In other words, the Trump administration claimed that there was no difference, in principle, between Kareem’s murder in Idlib, Syria, and the murder of the judge in his office in Washington, DC.
It wasn’t an academic discussion, but a power grab made by a president who still refuses to admit the vote went against him, and a dying Tyrannosaurus rex can be very dangerous.
“Do you appreciate how extraordinary this proposal is?” cried the incredulous lawyer. “That the American government – the executive branch – can he unilaterally decide to kill American citizens? “
Maybe I shouldn’t be writing this article. This could give Trump some ideas, as he stews in the West Wing between his post-election rounds of golf. After all, according to his theory, he would not limit himself to killing judges – the same principle would apply to the “political question” obviously of whether an opposition politician is a threat to national security (which in Trump’s case is often confused with Trump. Security). So, rather than wasting time on frivolous lawsuits to contest the votes in Pennsylvania, why not just send a Predator drone in search of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris?
Trump would only plagiarize the plans of one of his close friends. The Western Intelligence Consensus is that the order to kill Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny came directly from the Kremlin. Vladimir Putin seems to have felt that political opponents do indeed pose a threat to national security.
Trump won’t (hopefully!) But when the United States abandons the heights, it will inspire everyone to dive into the depths. The argument put forward by Trump’s lawyer will allow Putin to tell Biden to back down if he complains about attempts to assassinate political opponents from Salisbury in Istanbul – just as Obama’s casualty list prompted Duterte. say the former president to “go to hell” in an appeal on drug killings. Much has been said of an American despotism under Trump. Perhaps our institutions are strong enough to withstand direct attack. Perhaps the greatest danger comes from an insidious grasp of extraordinary power.
Perhaps, indeed, the “The revelation that President Obama, operating from a government ‘kill list,’ personally determined who should be targeted to death by military drones … only brings us even closer to this fall.” precipitated towards authoritarianism. If this is the case, we must remember the famous words of Edmund Burke: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men and women do nothing. Obama’s initial insistence on the right to dispense with the right to a pre-execution trial is one of the most dangerous steps we have taken towards the edge of the cliff.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.