October 1, 2019

US – #WeeklyAddress: September 23 – 29: American journalist on kill list is denied right to due process

Below are the most notable incidents regarding threats to press freedom in the US during the week of September 23-29:

American journalist on kill list is denied right to due process

The US government invoked the state secrets authority to block a journalist's legal challenge regarding his alleged placement on a "kill list" by US authorities in Syria, the The Washington Post reports. Bilal Abdul Kareem filed this lawsuit to try to clear his name from the kill list, and a federal judge allowed his case to proceed last year because he was exercising his right to due process. His case was dismissed on September 24 after the Trump administration invoked the state secrets privilege, since the disclosure of classified information regarding Abdul Kareem's placement on the kill list could allow him to evade capture or reveal details about US intelligence activities. Abdul Kareem's lawyer said he now may be killed without obtaining the information he would need to prove that he is being wrongfully targeted. Abdul Kareem is a US citizen and freelance journalist who has been in Syria since 2012 reporting on the conflict and providing on-the-ground perspectives through interviews with jihadists, including members of Al Qaeda. Critics have accused Abdul Kareem of promoting jihadist propaganda, though he is an independent journalist who does not belong to any militant group, he told The New York Times. He said he has narrowly escaped five drone strikes. believes the US program Skynet has used metadata to incorrectly identify Abdul Kareem as suspicious because of his social media posts and his travel patterns. 



FBI arrested US Army soldier who wanted to bomb a major news network

The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) arrested a United States Army soldier on September 21 after he was caught discussing plans to bomb a major news network, suggesting presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke as a potential target, and demonstrating how to build bombs to carry out these attacks. Through online messages in a group chat with an FBI informant, the soldier, Jarrett William Smith, discussed plans for an attack in the US and suggested the headquarters of a major news network for a target. Two sources familiar with the matter said the network Smith intended to target was CNN, though the network’s president Jeffrey Zucker assured his staff that their offices did not face any imminent threat. Although Smith was arrested before the situation could escalate, these types of incidents have become all too familiar. Among other institutional threats to press freedom in the United States, CNN’s New York offices evacuated over bomb threats in October and December 2018.



NYT publisher says Trump administration threatens global press freedom

In a September 23 op-ed about the Trump administration's role in global hostility toward the press, New York Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger wrote for the first time about the US government’s inaction in helping a Times reporter who faced imminent arrest in Egypt two years ago. According to the op-ed, the Times had received a phone call from a US diplomat warning them that their reporter, Declan Walsh, was about to be arrested in Egypt. Sulzberger said the diplomat had shared this information without the knowledge or permission of the Trump administration. “Rather than trying to stop the Egyptian government or assist the reporter, the official believed, the Trump administration intended to sit on the information and let the arrest be carried out,” Sulzberger wrote. “The official feared being punished for even alerting us to the danger.” On a broader scale, Sulzberger’s op-ed argues the Trump administration has contributed to the global threat to press freedom through President Trump’s “fake news” rhetoric, which has been co-opted by over 50 government leaders to justify anti-press activity. In June, Trump surpassed his record for anti-press expression, tweeting negative comments about the press 25 out of 30 days of the month.



Trump administration appeals decision in Brian Karem’s press pass case

The Department of Justice is appealing a judge’s prior decision to immediately restore Playboy columnist and CNN contributor Brian Karem’s White House press credentials. Karem’s credentials were suspended in August after he and pro-Trump radio host Sebastian Gorka entered an argument following a Rose Garden ceremony, and then restored on September 3 by a judge who ruled White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham’s rationale for revoking the pass was too vague. The administration filed the notice of appeal on September 27 in a federal court in Washington, DC. This incident was preceded by a similar one in November 2018, when the White House suspended CNN correspondent Jim Acosta’s press pass, prompting a lawsuit and the restoration of Acosta’s press pass within a week.



The United States ranks 48th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2019 World Press Freedom Index


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