The government can "unilaterally decide to kill US citizens," according to Justice Department lawyers

A recent hearing in the case of award-winning American journalist Bilal Abdul Kareem versus the US government took a very dark turn towards the unlimited privilege of extralegal killings of US citizens.

Kareem claims that he has narrowly avoided at least 5 drone strikes while reporting in the Middle East, and believes that he has been placed on a government kill list because of his interviews with al-Qaeda-linked militants. Kareem is legally challenging his inclusion on said list, based on the fact that he's a US citizen and a journalist. From Common Dreams:

A lower court initially upheld Kareem's right to bring the case, however it dismissed it after the government claimed the proceedings would require disclosure of "state secrets." Now on appeal, the central question before the court is whether the government can secretly authorize the assassination of American citizens without judicial review.

During a court hearing on Monday, November 16, Justice Department attorney Bradley Hinshelwood essentially argued that the government has full power to kill its own citizens without judicial oversight, particularly when state secrets are involved. "In all of these circumstances, [Kareem] is 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," he said.

U.S. Circuit Judge Patricia Millett paraphrased the DoJ's argument as empowering the government to "unilaterally decide to kill US citizens," according to Courthouse News.

While there's no publicly available transcript of the hearing (as far as I can find), the World Socialist Website summed up the exchange as such:

During the hearing, Attorney Bradley Hinshelwood declared that the government had the power to target and kill alleged national security threats, including US citizens, and that planning or committing such acts was not reviewable by the courts.

Kareem's lawyer explained in The Independent:

Today the Trump administration claimed that Americans can be stripped of due process rights — not to vote, but to life. The government's argument? The reasons the US wants to assassinate Bilal, an American journalist who has been reporting from Syria, are so secret that they can't possibly be aired in a courtroom.

When pressed by the court, the government asserted that it has the absolute right to order the assassination of an American citizen, any time, anywhere, including within the United States, and then claim that it is a state secret and its actions are unreviewable by any Court. Some of the judges indicated shock that such a wide power could be claimed, a claim never before made.

As long as the government contends the evidence is too secret to share then the Americans caught in the crosshairs are out of luck. And the rest of us just have to trust the President's judgment with no role whatever for the courts. And as for the unlucky target? He can only try to duck.

Again, I can't find a transcript of the actual court session. Hinshelwood's argument may have been more long-winded and less concise than "the government can unilaterally decide to kill US citizens." And certainly Kareem's lawyers would have a motive to mischaracterize their legal opponents. But it's not particularly surprising that the US government—under any administration—would ultimately push for that conclusion in order to defend its unilateral drone-striking authority at any cost.

Justice Department Asserts Unreviewable Discretion to Kill US Citizens [Megan Mineiro / Courthouse News]

The Trump administration argued today that it can kill my client without even telling him why [Eric Lewis / The Independent]

About to Have His Day in Court, This American Journalist Wants to Know If He's on the US 'Kill List' [Brett Wilkins / Common Dreams]

Justice Department attorney tells appeals court the government can kill US citizens without judicial review [Harvey Simpkins / World Socialist Website]