I interviewed Medea Benjamin on May 27, 2013 a few days after she'd interrupted President Obama three times in a major speech.
This is part one of a two part interview. Here is a link to the audio podcast.
Thanks to Don Caldarazzo for doing the transcript.
Rob Kall: And welcome to the Rob Kall Bottom Up Radio Show, WNJC 1360 AM out of Washington Township, reaching metro Philly and South Jersey, sponsored by Opednews.com . Tonight, my guest is Medea Benjamin. Medea Benjamin is the co-founder of "Code Pink," the co-founder of "Global Exchange," the author of Drone Warfare: Killing By Remote Control, and a couple of days ago when President Obama was giving his speech, she was the woman whose voice was heard as he was repeatedly interrupted. Welcome to the show again, Medea!
Medea Benjamin: Hey, Rob. Thanks for having me on.
Rob Kall: Yeah. It was wonderful hearing your voice the other day, a voice I've gotten to know in the role you were playing there; because you do it a lot, don't you?
Medea Benjamin: Well, yeah. Every once in a while when the moment seems right.
Rob Kall: So the reason I wanted to talk to you: I know you've done a lot of interviews on this, and so I want to talk briefly about why you did it, but more importantly, I want to talk about how you did it, because I think this works. I think it was brilliant and it was an incredibly effective way to get a different position heard in front of millions of people.
My goal of this interview is first to get an idea of the message you were attempting to get out through your interruption of President Obama, but more about what goes into the process of doing the kinds of things that you do, and that Code Pink has often done in so many excellent ways. So first: what were you trying to accomplish there?
Medea Benjamin: Well, I should say, Rob, that the most important thing is to have the ability to be in that space to then figure out if it seems appropriate or not to speak out. I didn't go in with the intention, necessarily, of speaking out, because there had been so much hype about this speech that I really thought there were going to be some significant policy changes discussed, and then it wouldn't have been appropriate. Then it would've been more, you know, get up and applaud with everybody. So I think it's important to be flexible, to think, "Well, if he says things that we don't agree with, then maybe it is appropriate; but if he is announcing changes that we've been pushing for for years now, then it's not appropriate."
Rob Kall: OK, fair enough. Now, in your article on why you did it, you talked about how you waited patiently, and after enough time you figured, "No."
Medea Benjamin: Well, he was coming to the very end of his speech. I thought the part about drones was going back and forth and back and forth, between saying, "We're going to use them less, but we still justify them." "It's still OK to violate other countries' sovereignty." He obviously didn't say anything about apologies to victims. He did say it "haunts" him when civilians are killed, but him being haunted is a lot different than saying, "We are going to acknowledge the innocent people who have been killed, and do something to compensate them, even though we know that money can never account for the loss of a loved one." In the case of Afghanistan, the military does try to compensate innocent victims, so why not do it in Pakistan or Yemen or Somalia? But he didn't say that, and I kept waiting and waiting.
Then he got to the Guantanamo part, and he said, "This is the last thing I'm going to talk about." Well, it was already about forty-five (45) minutes into the speech, and that's when I realized: he had already gone through drones, and there weren't significant policy changes; in fact, there were things that really angered me that he said. For example, when he said that his policy was to capture people instead of killing them! That's just not true. In fact, the whole issue around the drones is that it's been Obama's alternative to capturing people as was done under the Bush Administration. That's why there were about 800 people who ended up in Guantanamo. But the Obama Administration chose a different route, and thought it was "cleaner and easier" to just kill people.
So, I had already thought, "Wow. He didn't say the things about drones that had been rumored." For example, it seems that his policy is to switch drones away from the hands of the CIA into the military, but he didn't even mention the word "CIA." He talked about transparency with the American people, but he didn't say he was going to publicly release the legal memos that Congress had been asking for and that the American people deserved to see. So when he got to the part of Guantanamo and he started blaming Congress - and sure, Congress has put up obstacles; but after all, he is the most powerful man in the world, he is the Commander in Chief, and there are certainly ways that he can start releasing the prisoners in Guantanamo, and he hasn't had the moral courage or the political will to do it. So it seemed appropriate to me at that point to get up and say something. I started out about talking about the Guantanamo issue, but I did want to get in a few words about the drones as well.
Rob Kall: Yes. OK, and did you feel that you accomplished something significant there?