Yet the Obama administration killed several United States citizens in overseas drone strikes, including Anwar al-Awlaki, who was designated a lawful target by executive-branch lawyers. They declared him to be impossible to capture and engaged “in continual planning and direction of attacks” against Americans. And courts stymied efforts to challenge his death warrant and his death.
U.S. District Court Judge John Bates ruled in 2010 that the target’s father lacked legal standing to bring a suit, adding that “there are no judicially manageable standards by which courts can endeavor to assess the President’s interpretation of military intelligence and his resulting decision—based on that intelligence—whether to use military force against a terrorist target overseas … Nor are there judicially manageable standards by which courts may determine the nature and magnitude of the national security threat posed by a particular individual.”
As Jameel Jaffer of the ACLU warned at the time, “It’s worth remembering that the power that the court invests in the president today will be available not just in this case but in future cases, and not just to the current president but to every future president.”
The U.S. government succeeded in killing al-Awlaki the following year as he ate breakfast in Yemen. Another lawsuit was then filed to challenge the killing’s legality.
In a 41-page opinion, federal Judge Rosemary M. Collyer “ruled that courts should hesitate before deciding to hold a government official personally responsible for violating a citizen’s constitutional rights in the context of a wartime action,” Charlie Savage reported in The New York Times, adding that the ruling suggested U.S. federal courts have “no role to play, before or after, in reviewing the legality of government decisions to kill citizens whom officials deem to be terrorists in overseas wartime operations, even away from ‘hot’ battlefields.”
Civil libertarians kept objecting.
The Constitution affords extraordinary protection to citizens accused of treason, requiring two witnesses to the same overt act to secure a conviction. Yet courts were allowing presidents of the United States to kill citizens in secret without due process far from any battlefield merely by dubbing them terrorists?
Kareem’s case is a bit different. The U.S. government has neither publicly asserted that he is a terrorist nor acknowledged if he is, in fact, on a kill list. Rather, Kareem assumes that the government is trying to kill him because he was nearly killed on five different occasions. Collyer, once again presiding over a high-profile targeted killing case, summarized the facts as he presented them:
In June 2016, Mr. Kareem was at the location of four different aerial attacks. The first and fourth incidents involved strikes to the OGN office in Idlib City when Mr. Kareem was inside the office. The second attack occurred in the town of Hariyataan while Mr. Kareem was there conducting an interview. The strike hit the exact location where Mr. Kareem was setting up for the interview, but at the time of the strike he had climbed a nearby hill to “view destroyed homes a street away.”
The third attack occurred when the vehicle in which Mr. Kareem and his staff were traveling was “struck and destroyed by a drone-launched Hellfire missile.” At the time of the strike, Mr. Kareem was sitting in a different, nearby vehicle which was “hurled into the air by the force of the blast” and “flipped upside down.” In August 2016, Mr. Kareem was again the victim of an attack when he was at the Kulliyatul Midfa‘iyyah (Artillery College) to film. He and his coworkers were in his car “when there was a huge blast only yards away from the car.” The occupants survived, but all were hit by shrapnel from the blast.
As a result of these five near-miss experiences in a three-month period, Mr. Kareem alleges upon information and belief that he was the target and that his name is included on the United States Kill List.
Kareem believes that because of the people with whom he was in contact while reporting on the Syrian civil war, the United States erroneously concluded that he is a terrorist. In essence, he sued in hopes of going to court, clearing his name, and getting an injunction to stop his own extrajudicial killing.