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An unsent letter to the President's chief counterterrorism advisor

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Medea Benjamin, a truly patriotic American and co-founder of the anti-war group, Code Pink, recently wrote an article in (May 1, 2012) explaining why she had interrupted the speech entitled "The Ethics and Efficacy of the President's Counterterrorism Strategy" being given by John Brennan, President Obama's chief counterterrorism adviser at the Woodrow Wilson International Center on April 30.

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Her action protesting the administration's use of drone strikes was very courageous. I also really appreciate her having written the article. Had she not done so the speech probably would have escaped my attention. After reading her article I found and read the transcript of Mr. Brennan's speech, which instantly reminded me of Hannah Arendt's phrase, "the banality of evil" that she coined to characterize the thoughtless mind of Adolph Eichmann, whose trial she was reporting on for The New Yorker.

My next reaction was to write what now follows as my unsent letter to the chief counter terrorism advisor. A sent letter would be round filed by his staff before he ever saw it.


The unsent letter

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Dear Chief Counterterrorism advisor to the President,

I recently read an account by the woman who interrupted the speech you gave on April 30 at the Woodrow Wilson International Center. I then read a transcript of your speech. I was appalled by the ouster of the lady and by your speech. I now put to you a series of questions about the entire matter.

On the ouster of the protestor

According to the protestor's own account, after her having made only a few remarks she "was handcuffed and taken to the basement of the building, where [she] was questioned about [her] background and motives---[and eventually] released." Apparently she was not making any threatening gestures or speaking profanely and was simply countering your remarks based on what she knew to be to be factual reporting of the deadly effects of U.S. drone attacks on foreign civilians.

Q1. Why did you not intercede and ask your host to give the protestor a little more time to finish her remarks and questions and to give you a little time for a rejoinder?   

Q2. By not altering your speech to respond to her remarks were you in effect acknowledging that your speech was intended to be propaganda for the administration's use of drone strikes and not a basis for debate?


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On defining terrorism

Q3. I find no actual definition of terrorism in your speech. Title 22, Chapter 38 of the United States Codes defines "terrorism" as "premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents." Would you agree that by that definition, the U.S. is a clandestine agent?

Q4. Since by definition a terrorist is a person who perpetrates such violence, and since not all of the targeted individuals were involved in the attack on the twin towers, how can targeted individuals not involved be terrorists if they have not actually perpetrated violence in some other way against Americans, and what is the administration's rationale for killing individuals thought to "pose" a threat of violence from afar to the United States?

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Retired organizational psychologist.

Author of The Devil's Marriage: Break Up the Corpocracy or Leave Democracy in the Lurch; America's Oldest Professions: Warring and Spying; and Corporate Reckoning Ahead.

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