President Obama was interrupted during a major speech on national security policy by Code Pink’s Medea Benjamin, who shouted from the back of the auditorium about his administration’s abusive policies of indefinite detention and drone warfare, leading the president to acknowledge her and even pause to let her finish.
Obama lamented efforts by Congress to prevent the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention center, saying it “never should have been opened.” At this point, Benjamin, who had remained quiet for almost the whole hour, shouted at the President, reminding him that it is perfectly within his power to close the facility on his own.
“Let me finish ma’am,” the President said, as he stumbled over the interruption to continue his prepared remarks.
“I’m willing to cut that young lady who interrupted me some slack, because it’s worth being passionate about,” Obama said. “Is this who we are?” Obama asked in reference to his indefinite detention policies. “Is that something our Founders foresaw?”
Media spoke up again when Obama failed to more fully address the killing of Abdulrahman Awlaki, the 16-year old son of suspected terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki, in a 2011 drone strike in Yemen.
What about him? Benjamin asked, as Obama paused to wait for her to be escorted out by security.
“Can you tell the Muslims that their lives are as precious as our lives?” Benjamin asked rhetorically as she was dragged out. “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 activity? Will you compensate the families of innocent victims you have killed?”
“I love my country,” she said. “I love the rule of law. The drones are making us less safe.”
Once she was fully escorted out, Obama said, “The voice of that woman is worth paying attention to.”
After the speech, The Huffington Post’s Ryan Reilly interviewed Benjamin.
“To be honest, I wasn’t sure I was going to do anything,” Benjamin told him. “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 was not arrested at the scene, but said she was questioned by Army personnel, 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.
“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.