Collyer in June 2018 ruled that Abdul Kareem, who said he was mistaken for a militant because of his frequent contact with militants linked to al-Qaeda, was exercising his constitutional right to due process in court.
But after talks between Abdul Kareem’s lawyers and U.S. authorities broke down, the government tapped the rarely invoked state secrets authority, saying Abdul Kareem sought information revealing “the existence and operational details of alleged military and intelligence activities directed at combating the terrorist threat to the United States.”
In a 14-page opinion, Collyer said she was bound to agree, saying the government’s right to withhold information in such instances is “absolute.”
“What constitutional right is more essential than the right to due process before the government may take a life? While the answer may be none, federal courts possess limited authority to resolve questions presented in a lawsuit, even when they are alleged to involve constitutional rights. This is such a case,” Collyer wrote, adding, “Despite the serious nature of Plaintiff’s allegations, this Court must dismiss the action pursuant to the government’s invocation of the state secrets privilege.”
Prosecutors said that disclosing whether Abdul Kareem is on the “kill list” could permit him to evade capture or further U.S. action, and also could risk revealing or compromising intelligence sources and methods.
Collyer at a May 2018 hearing in Abdul Kareem’s case questioned whether national security concerns trump individuals’ rights in the U.S. targeted-killing program, a question left open by courts since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks . On Tuesday, the judge credited the government for engaging “in months of consideration” before providing “reasoned declarations” supporting its views.
Collyer noted that if Abdul Kareem were to face criminal prosecution, the government would be required to disclose classified information important to his defense. But she said that no such requirement applies to offset the state secret privilege in a civil case.
The judge also said it was not up to the courts to adopt Abdul Kareem’s attorneys’ proposal that people placed on the “kill list” should have the same due-process protections as organizations designated as terrorists by the State or Treasury departments.
In a statement, Abdul Kareem’s attorneys said, “We are very disappointed in today’s decision,” which they said “renders the right to due process effectively meaningless for Mr. Kareem.”
“For the first time ever, a United States federal court ruled that the government may kill one of its citizens without providing him the information necessary to prove that he is being wrongly targeted and does not deserve to die,” attorney Tara J. Plochocki said. “The U.S. Government could have provided this information but chose not to and the Court found that the Government’s assertion of national security trumps his right not to be killed.”