Perspectives
July 03, 2024 | By Dan O’Donnell
Policy Issues
Accountable Government

When Liberals’ Worst Fears Came True

Dan O’Donnell wonders whether the left has forgotten the time, long before Monday’s Supreme Court ruling, a president actually did use the power of his office to kill American citizens.

It’s a nightmare scenario unthinkable before the Supreme Court’s ruling on Monday: A President, emboldened by the knowledge that he enjoys absolute immunity from prosecution for official acts, murders an American citizen in a drone strike.

Declaring the helpless victim a terrorist and enemy of the state, the heartless President celebrates his death and uses it to bolster his tough-guy image.  Two weeks later, his bloodlust apparently not satiated, the President kills the man’s 16-year-old son.

A chilling glimpse into a future Trump presidency?  Hardly.  It was the very real pair of drone strikes ordered by former President Obama in 2011 that killed radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki and his son Abdulrahman al-Awlaki in Yemen.

The elder al-Awlaki, born in New Mexico and an American citizen, was a known terrorist who was widely believed to be a critical recruiter for al-Qaeda who inspired and encouraged scores of attacks, including the 2009 Fort Hood massacre that left 13 people dead.

Also killed in the drone strike that took out al-Awlaki was a second American citizen, the Saudi-born terrorist who published al-Qaeda’s propaganda magazine.

“The death of Awlaki is a major blow to al-Qaeda’s most active operational affiliate,” Obama said after the attack.

“This country is much safer as a result of the loss of Awlaki,” added Leon Panetta, Obama’s defense secretary.

While some civil rights groups decried the drone attack that killed al-Awlaki and Khan, the US military declared their deaths a lawful act of war.

The death of Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, also an American citizen, was not so clear-cut.  The US was targeting top al-Qaeda operative Ibrahim al-Banna and Abdulrahman was simply “in the wrong place at the wrong time,” as one government official told the Washington Post.  Outside of his father, Abdulrahman had no known terrorist ties and was never implicated in any terrorist activity himself.  He was just a 16-year-old boy who had the misfortune of being in the immediate vicinity of an American Predator drone.

Could Obama, who authorized the strike, or Panetta, who carried it out, have faced criminal charges for the recklessness that killed an apparently innocent American?  No prosecutor ever considered it for even a millisecond.  The ACLU filed a civil lawsuit against Panetta, but it was quickly dismissed.

How could this be?  Nearly 13 years before the Supreme Court conferred absolute immunity on official presidential acts and set off hysterically apocalyptic predictions from the political left, President Obama did the very thing that they have convinced themselves that Trump will now be allowed to do.

Leading the charge is Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who wrote in her hysterical dissent that when a President “uses his official powers in any way, under the majority’s reasoning, he now will be insulated from criminal prosecution. Orders the Navy’s Seal Team 6 to assassinate a political rival? Immune. Organizes a military coup to hold onto power? Immune. Takes a bribe in exchange for a pardon? Immune. Immune, immune, immune.”

Put simply, that is insane. Insane, insane, insane.  Taking bribes and organizing military coups are not official acts of the presidency, they are crimes.  So too is using Seal Team 6 to assassinate a political rival, as every rational person fully understands.  Using Seal Team 6 to assassinate a terrorist leader?  Obviously an official act, just as it was when Obama ordered the mission that killed Osama Bin Laden a few months before the al-Awlaki killing.

A more pertinent question for Sotomayor her fellow hyperventilating liberals would be whether they believe Trump should be allowed to prosecute Obama for the murders of the two al-Awlakis and Khan.  This isn’t a hypothetical question; without the absolute immunity that was always presumed but has now been affirmed by the Supreme Court, a newly inaugurated Trump could absolutely use his authority to indict Obama for murder.

That it never entered his (nor anyone else’s) mind during his first term is highly instructive.  Only the Biden Administration has ever brought criminal charges against a predecessor, and only now is it seemingly necessary for the Supreme Court to intervene and codify what was always taken for granted—that political prosecutions of official presidential acts are, much more than anything Trump could ever dream up, a dire threat to American democracy.


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