May 23, 2013
In a dramatic exchange during the final moments of a much anticipated foreign policy speech by President Obama on Thursday, CodePink activist Medea Benjamin rose from the audience and directly confronted the US commander-in-chief by challenging him on several of the government's most controversial policies.
Calling for the president to both recognize the ongoing hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay and close the offshore prison facility, Benjamin also demanded answers to questions regarding the killing of a 16-year-old American citizen, Abdulrahman Awlaki, by a 2011 US drone bombing in Yemen.
Watch the first part of the exchange:
Despite the interruption, Benjamin was not immediately removed from the audience. However, after allowing Obama to continue with his remarks for several more moments, Benjamin once again interjected, this time regarding the death of the 16-year-old Abdulrahman. As her voice rose--and Obama paused to listen--security then intervened:
"The voice of that women is worth paying attention to," Obama said of Benjamin after she was hauled out of the room. "Obviously I do not agree with much of what she said. And obviously she wasn't listening to me in much of what I said. But these are tough issues, and the suggestion that we can gloss over them is wrong."
Observers on Twitter were expressing their surprise about the interaction in real time:
\u201cIn disrupting Obama's speech, @medeabenjamin asked POTUS a question no journalist has: What about the killing of 16 yr old Abdulrahman?\u201d— jeremy scahill (@jeremy scahill) 1369335504
\u201cWow @medeabenjamin is now discussing Abdulrahman Awlaki and POTUS just listening\u201d— jeremy scahill (@jeremy scahill) 1369335322
\u201cSeriously, the PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES IS RIGHT NOW SAYING YOU SHOULD LISTEN TO @medeabenjamin\u201d— Chris Hayes (@Chris Hayes) 1369335393
\u201cI'll admit: very surprised @medeabenjamin has not been pulled out of audience yet. Obama silently letting her make points now.\u201d— Kevin Gosztola (@Kevin Gosztola) 1369335350
And CodePink's Twitter page, of course, was in full swing:
Though some on social media were berating CodePink and Benjamin's tactics as self-promotional or counter-productive, journalist Jeremy Scahill interjected:
\u201cFor people angry with @medeabenjamin/Code Pink, has it occurred to you that maybe the WH press corp should actually ask these questions?\u201d— jeremy scahill (@jeremy scahill) 1369337865
And took derisive comments by mainstream journalists and pundits to task by tweeting:
\u201cThe point is: people with access to the President *won't* ask the very legitimate questions @medeabenjamin asked.\u201d— jeremy scahill (@jeremy scahill) 1369337959
UPDATE: Even Medea Benjamin herself 'surprised Obama drone protest worked
From the Huffington Post:
In an interview with The Huffington Post afterward, at a Starbucks near National Defense University, Benjamin said someone had given her an invite to the speech.
"I had an invitation, somebody gave me an invitation who I'm not at liberty to disclose," Benjamin said, calling her protest "epic" when compared to her other demonstrations.
Benjamin was wearing a pink belt and a pink watch and even drove onto the military base in a car with a Code Pink bumper sticker. While several reporters knew and recognized her as they waited to pass through security, the event's organizers evidently didn't. (One photographer said Benjamin's badge indicated her first name was Susan, her given name.)
"To be honest, I wasn't sure I was going to do anything," Benjamin recalled. "I was prepared if I wanted to, but I thought there might be some real significant things that came out of this, and I thought, well, I'm not going to say anything if it's a really good speech."
Benjamin said she was led out of the room and questioned by on-site Army personnel, as well as Secret Service and FBI agents, before she was let go.
"I was very forthcoming, gave my name, Social Security number, address and everything. They asked me what my motives were and I explained it all," she said. "It was very strange because I think when it's the president ... they are oftentimes embarrassed to then have the media attention be that they arrested somebody for speaking out."
"I must say, I do really appreciate that I live in a country where if you interrupt the president you don't get beaten and tortured and thrown inside a prison for a year," she added.
Benjamin believes similar actions would have gotten her arrested had they occurred during a congressional hearing. "I've been arrested so many times in Congress, it's ridiculous," she said.
After she had been escorted out, Obama referred to Benjamin as a "young lady."
"I'm willing to cut that young lady interrupting me some slack, because it's worth being passionate about," he said. "The voice of that woman is worth paying attention to."
"That's very nice," Benjamin said, "given that I'm older than him."
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