An Interview with Code-Pink founder, Medea Benjamin, on why she disrupted a national foreign policy speech given May 23 by President Barack Obama
Code-Pink founder, Medea Benjamin, took President Barack Obama head-on during a major foreign policy speech the president was giving Thursday on drone policy and related issues. Benjamin demanded that the president close the Guantanamo Bay prison immediately.
On at least three occasions, Benjamin engaged the president, ultimately forcing him off script. At one point, a frustrated Obama told the peace activist: "Why don't you sit down, and I will tell you exactly what I'm going to do... about Guantanamo." But soon Benjamin was back up on her feet again, definitely not satisfied with Obama's plan to send detainees to other countries.
"Release them today!" she screamed, as security moved to eject her from the room. "You are commander in chief! ... You can close Guantanamo today! ... You can release those 86 prisoners! ... It's been 11 years! ... I love my country! ... I love the rule of law!" A s she was finally taken into custody by security, Benjamin shouted -- "Abide by the rule of law! You're a constitutional lawyer!" She also confronted the president on the killing of a 16-year old American citizen.
I spoke to Benjamin right after she was released from federal custody, during a live broadcast on Pacifica Radio's Flashpoints Show. Benjamin said what she really wanted to tell the president if she had a little more time, the significance of the ongoing hunger strike by the detainees at Guantanamo, and why she believes the president should be tried for war crimes based on his extra-legal drone policy.
Here's what Medea really wanted to say had she been given the chance. Although, I think she got more time than most get in that position, and she wasn't even charged with a crime...
DB: Medea, how are you feeling? You were taken into custody?
MB: I am doing great. I was held by people in the military base, the FBI, and the secret service, and questioned for a while about who I am and my motives. Then amazingly enough, I was let free with no charges.
DB: What were you trying to tell the president?
MB: I got to speak three different times. When he was speaking about blaming Congress for not being able to close Guantanamo, I said he is the Commander-in-Chief so obviously has the ability to close Guantanamo today if he wanted to and release the 86 prisoners who have been cleared for release -- so why isn't he doing that. I got a chance to speak up again, talk about the drone strikes and ask why he isn't taking them out of the hands of the CIA. Why isn't he prohibiting signature strikes where people are killed just on the basis of suspicious activities? And why will he not apologize to, and compensate the families of the innocent victims of our drone strikes? I got one more chance and asked who killed the 16-year-old American Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, and why?
DB: That's when you were arrested and taken into custody?
DB: Obama made a major foreign policy speech today. He said something about Guantanamo. What is your response to what the president said?
MB: I was hoping we would get some significant changes because the rumors had been flying about real policy changes like the ones I just mentioned. Unfortunately what we got is more rhetoric that justifies the drone program. He talked about Anwar al-Awlaki but refused to talk about his 16-year old son. He said the drone strikes are only used when we can't capture people, which is not true. I know many examples where it would have been simple to capture people, such as 16-year old Tariq Aziz from Pakistan, who was in the capital city of Islamabad at a public meeting in a public hotel. Instead of capturing him there, he was killed two days later by a drone strike.
In Yemen there are many drone strikes that are very near the capital city were people could have easily been captured. There were many statements in the speech that weren't true. Unfortunately there were no significant policy changes except the restricting of the self-imposed ban on not releasing people from Guantanamo to Yemen.
DB: You told Obama you wanted him to recognize the hunger strike. Why is it very important for the president of the United States to recognize the hunger strike?