After he was interrupted, several times, by CODEPINK founder Medea Benjamin during his foreign policy speech on Thursday, President Obama said: “The voice of that woman is worth paying attention to.”
I agree with that part of his response, which was met with applause in the room. I rather liked the questions that Benjamin shouted out before and as she was eventually led out of the room. She offered a pretty well constructed set of thoughts and questions, particularly under the circumstances. And I’d love to hear the President’s answers to a few of her questions.
Here’s what she said, as well as I was able to capture her remarks from the video…
It’s not Congress. It’s you, sir. There are 102 people on a hunger strike [in the Guantanamo Bay prison]. These are desperate people. 86 have been cleared for release. You are Commander-in-Chief. You can close Guantanamo today. You can release those 86 prisoners today … How about Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, a 16-year-old American killed by drones. Is that the way we treat a 16-year-old American? Why was he killed? Can you tell us why Abdulrahman al-Awlaki was killed?
Can you tell the Muslim people their lives are as precious as our lives? Can you take the drones out of the hands of the CIA? Can you stop the signature strikes that are killing people on the basis of suspicious activities? Will you apologize to the thousands of Muslims that you have killed? Will you compensate the innocent family victims? That will make us safer here at home.
I love my country! I love the rule of law! The drones are making us less safe. And keeping people in indefinite detention in Guantanamo is making us less safe. Abide by the rule of law. You’re a Constitutional lawyer!
For the record, the President absolutely can release the 86 prisoners who have been cleared for release immediately, as Benjamin noted. He does not have to, as he likes to suggest, get approval from Congress to do that. He can release them immediately. He only needs Congressional approval to move prisoners (such as the ones who may actually face some sort of trial or military tribunal) to another prison on the U.S. mainland.
Despite his assertions to the contrary, as seen in the video below, Obama did not address the concerns of Benjamin. He did not explain why 16-year-old U.S. citizen Abdulrahman al-Awlaki was killed. He did not answer whether drone strikes would be taken out of the hands of the unaccountable CIA and given to the slightly-more-accountable military. He did not respond to the question about compensation to the families of innocent victims killed in drone strikes. He did not speak to whether “signature strikes” with drones (attacks based on profiles of those believed to be gathered at a particular location, rather than a specific person believed to be in the group) would be ended. He should address all of those issues.
Video of the section of his speech during which the President was interrupted several times by Benjamin —- remarkably, she was not removed the first several times —- and his responses to her, follows below…