The Kill List – Are U.S. Citizens Being Sentenced to Death with No Opportunity to Be Heard?

Here we are, complaining about prosecutors hiding exculpatory evidence or making snarky prejudicial comments during trials, when apparently the US government is assassinating US citizens on a “kill list” without any trial or due process.

Bilal Abdul Kareem was forced to file suit, begging the US government to give him a hearing or at least to hear him out before they murder him as a suspected terrorist… a death penalty appeal where the court determined that he has no recourse.

A non-US citizen journalist who also asked to be given a hearing before the US government kills him was summarily rejected. Because he is not a US citizen, he has no rights under the US constitution, no recourse in US courts, and therefore, no right to live.

We have due process if the government says we have due process. When it suits our government, it kills indiscriminately, even to the point of assassinating US citizens. Innocent children and non-combatants are murdered with impunity as the US government makes repeated attempts to murder individuals on the US’s kill list.

Does everyone know that this is happening? Are we willfully blind to what our government is doing, are we living in fear of retaliation from government officials, or are we complicit in our government’s crimes?

The Kill List, Disposition Matrix, and Signature Strikes

The Rolling Stone article details what is known publicly about the history of the Kill List:

Seemingly conceived in the Obama years, the lethal list – about which little is known outside a few leaks and court pleadings – appears to sort people into targeting for capture, interrogation, or assassination by drone. It was run by a star-chamber of two-dozen security officials and the president. According to a 2012 New York Times report, they met once a week to decide which targets around the world lived or died.

These meetings became known as “Terror Tuesdays.”

Drone attacks and targeted assassinations reportedly began under President Bush’s tenure but increased x 10 under the Obama administration.

President Trump has reportedly further increased drone strikes to four or five times the rate of strikes under President Obama – a campaign promise, if you recall, where he promised to increase bombings and famously said, “You have to take out their families.”

According to the Rolling Stone article:

We kill suspects whose names we know, and whose names we don’t; we kill the guilty and the not guilty; we kill men, but also women and children; we kill by day and by night; we fire missiles at confirmed visual targets, but also at cellphone numbers we hope belong to targets.

Well, at least we have responsible government officials who are reviewing these targets and making sure that we only murder confirmed terrorists, right? Well…

In 2014, former CIA and NSA director Michael Hayden said in a public debate, “We kill people based on metadata.”


Signature strikes” are assassinations that are carried out on individuals who are targeted based on a mathematical formula when “too many derogatory checks appear on their profile.” What kind of derogatory checks?

  • Military-aged males;
  • Exhibiting suspicious behavior in the wrong location;
  • Someone “seen to be giving out orders.”

What else? Armed? Has a beard? According to the Rolling Stone article, some individuals make it onto the Kill List when authorities don’t know even know their name

Aren’t Assassinations Illegal?

In the 1970’s, the public discovered that the CIA and other agencies were involved in political assassinations of leaders of foreign countries. Presidents Ford, Carter, and Reagan then signed executive orders banning political assassinations, although the practice apparently did not end.

Clinton and Bush II went on to clarify through executive orders that “executive orders banning assassination do not prevent the president from lawfully singling out a terrorist for death by covert action.”

After 9/11, assassinations by drone strikes in at least six middle eastern countries increased in intensity until in 2011 the Obama administration assassinated what is believed to be the first US citizen, suspected Al Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki who was born in New Mexico.

America’s Kill List apparently now includes US citizens who are not proven Al Qaeda or terrorist leaders and who have no recourse once they are tapped for death.

Um, Why Do Hellfire Missiles Keep Falling Around Me?

Kareem, a US citizen and a journalist, survived five attacks, including narrow misses by Hellfire missiles, before he realized that he was on America’s “kill list” and filed suit in Washington DC, asking the Court to at least give him a hearing before he is executed.

Kareem’s hearing was attended by his attorneys – he cannot attend court because he has no idea if he will be “disappeared” leaving the airport, abducted in the courthouse parking lot, or taken into custody for summary execution from the courtroom…

The government’s attorney disputed whether Kareem was even on the kill list, suggesting that maybe someone else, in addition to the US government, was firing Hellfire missiles from drones in Syria.

Ultimately, the Court acknowledged that, if the executive branch says a person is a threat to national security, the executive can decide to murder them, and the courts cannot do anything about it… How many Americans know that this is how our government is operating? How many are okay with it, if they do know?

The government argues that assassination of US citizens, as well as the mass murder of civilians with drone strikes during botched attacks on Kill List subjects, is a “political question” that is “nonjusticiable,” and US courts agree.

The judge in Kareem’s case allowed his lawsuit to proceed but suggested that he has no recourse – although he has a “’birthright’ as a citizen to assert his constitutional due process rights to be heard ‘and his First Amendment rights to free speech before he might be targeted for lethal action due to his profession.’”

To be clear: Targeted assassinations, including assassinations of US citizens, are okay because they are not “political assassinations.” On the other hand, they are nonjusticiable and even US citizens have no recourse because it is a “political question.”

War Crimes? Targeting of Civilians?

“We are killing these sons of bitches faster than they can grow them,” The Washington Post quoted a CIA official as saying.

Attorney Jennifer Gibson analyzed Kill List targets and US government press releases and discovered that each person on the Kill List was reported to have been killed an average of three times before they were actually killed – each time was an attempted assassination that instead resulted in the deaths of civilians:

In one extreme case, the CIA reportedly killed 76 children and 29 adults solely in attacks targeting Al Qaeda heavy Ayman al Zawahiri. They never got him. He is the current head of Al Qaeda.

In all, she found that as many as 1,147 people may have died just in attacks targeting the 41 men she studied. The victims were disproportionately children. In attacks targeting 14 men in Pakistan, 142 children died.

Isn’t knowingly killing civilians a war crime? No, no – that’s what we call collateral damage. Torture? No – it’s enhanced interrogation. Kidnapping and detention without due process? Extraordinary rendition.

But, the Geneva Convention… no, no, the Geneva Convention does not apply to unlawful enemy combatants.

Checks and Balances Preserve Democracy

We live in a country that targets and assassinates individuals across the globe with no oversight and no checks or balances at home. A country that regularly commits war crimes and atrocities on civilians, the elderly, women, and children in foreign countries, with impunity.

We live in a country that targets and assassinates its own citizens, citizens with “guaranteed constitutional rights” to due process, citizens who have no recourse in their nation’s courts once they are marked for death.

If the judicial branch does not reign in the excesses of the executive branch, who will? If the legislature does not act, what can ordinary US citizens do to stop the atrocities that are being committed by their government?

If the courts and the legislature allow the executive to commit war crimes, and to assassinate US citizens abroad with impunity, where will it end? Will our government begin assassinations of US citizens on US soil as well, without recourse or due process? Have they already?

When do the assassinations of citizens who are critical of our government begin? Do I need to be concerned that I will be “disappeared” for writing this article?

I have the utmost respect and admiration for the attorneys and journalists who are fighting to uphold the rule of law and to expose our government’s actions around the world and at home.

Please, help to make sure that everyone knows, whether they approve or disapprove, what is happening.

Charleston, SC Criminal Defense Lawyer

Grant B. Smaldone is a criminal defense attorney in Charleston, SC, who defends his clients against criminal accusations and who fights to preserve his clients’ constitutional rights, but who has no power whatsoever to force the US government to stop killing people abroad without due process of law.

If you’ve been charged with a crime in the Charleston, SC area, call now at (843) 808-2100 or fill out our online contact form to speak with a defense lawyer about your case today.