“I’m here to celebrate an American hero, and a hero of the first amendment, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of thought. And Bradley Manning has really stood for that all his life. In a way he’s been an outlier for a long time and I admire him for that.” -Daniel Ellsberg
Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers in 1971, talks about the upcoming court martial of Army Specialist Bradley Manning at a protest in support of Manning on June 1, 2013. Asked to compare Manning’s situation with his own predicament 40 years ago, Ellsberg describes the disadvantages Manning experiences because he is in the military. He credits Manning for alerting people to “this brutal war and the wars that lie ahead.”
Medea Benjamin of CODEPINK made waves when she interrupted President Obama during his policy address at the National Defense University on May 23, 2013. Even the President said, “That woman is worth paying attention to.”
Benjamin spoke to Cool Revolution about Obama’s speech on drone strikes in the Mideast and the future of Guantanamo prison detainees. She explains why she thinks he isn’t making a change in policy at all. She also explains why she spoke up and why disrupting speeches like this one is the result of “desperation.”
“We’ve done everything conceivable… we’ve run out of options.”
Medea Benjamin, founder of the organization CODEPINK, has actually been to Pakistan and seen the results of drone bombing. Obama has not. She had several pointed questions for him, which she yelled from the back of the room even as she was being thrown out.
“Will 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 families of innocent victims? That will make us safer.”
Right-wing opinion spewer Michelle Malkin called her a “serial heckler.” A conspiracy theory sprang up on social media that Benjamin was planted by Obama to help make him look good.
In my opinion, she derailed him. Obama spent most of the speech justifying the drone program as “legal” and making us safer. He failed to address how the U.N. has said that drone strikes in Pakistan violate its sovereignty. He failed to justify the deaths of three American citizens killed by drones and the maiming and killing of children by drone attacks. Or the terror thousands have suffered in the Mideast anticipating drone attacks on their homes and villages.
Toward the end of his address Benjamin started in and wouldn’t let up. Eventually, Obama was brought to a standstill. “The voice of that woman is worth paying attention to,” he conceded.
Seriously, the PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES IS RIGHT NOW SAYING YOU SHOULD LISTEN TO @medeabenjamin
We get the usual sexism whenever CODEPINK comes to town. They, and Medea, are screeching loonies, freaks, bitches and worse. At least they’re not dressed up like vaginas this time (like they did at the Democratic National Convention). At first Obama called Benjamin a “young lady.”
Right-wingers found plenty to heckle in the heckler. And Obama-worshiping liberals squirmed in their seats and said, “Won’t she just shut up??”
The fact is, disruption and interruption get attention. Passivity doesn’t. Look at what passivity has gotten us for the last decade. Iraq, Afghanistan, financial collapse, unemployment, loss of civil liberties, cuts to education, lack of accountability. And on and on.
Political activity for most people means “being informed,” sadly equated with watching MSNBC. People sitting in front of the TV getting outraged and fearful serves the interests of the powerful. It keeps them paralyzed. To combat impotence and vent rage, you might rant on Facebook, troll on websites, and tweet clever, snarky haikus.
My favorite form of pseudo-activism is signing online petitions. From my brief days of fundraising, I know that fifty percent of the time online petitions are a way to scoop up info on potential donors.
You can get involved in “the democratic process” and knock on doors for a candidate. The bravest souls scrawl a slogan on a sign and actually get out on the streets. The hardcore get arrested.
A variety of tactics, from moderate to radical, is important in movements for social change. But the moderate may have little to no effect these days. We’re entering an age – or maybe we’re long past it – when thousands of people carrying signs make no difference to those wielding power. Post-9/11, crowds are viewed as a threat to maintaining order. It doesn’t take much for law enforcement to break out the teargas and tasers.
During Obama’s speech, Benjamin asked questions that the White House press corps can’t and won’t ask. Maybe the questions don’t occur to them. Even if they did, they don’t dare ask them for fear of losing “access.”
What mainstream media has been good for in the past is investigative journalism. Free press is supposed to be the watchdog of government corruption and wrongdoing. What they didn’t realize when they snickered at Wikileaks was that eventually the Obama administration was going to come down hard on them too. Investigative reporting through whistleblowers is all but impossible now.
So what have we got left? It’s getting cramped in here–less wiggle room to reform the corrupt system, agitate on the streets, expose wrongdoing and hold lawbreakers accountable.
We can go into the halls of power and say fuck dignity and make a ruckus, that’s what we can do.
Every person in power needs to know that prepared speeches and talking points aren’t going to cut it any more. Pushed to the breaking point by unemployment, low wages and illegal foreclosures, ordinary people are becoming radicalized.
Your next interview, Mr. President, ain’t gonna be softball questions thrown by Steve Kroft on 60 Minutes. It’s gonna be Medea Benjamin in your face every day.
Today, the only person prosecuted because of the CIA torture program is going to prison. Justice at last. Finally we’re seeing some accountability for heinous and detestable acts committed in our names.
Well, no. Quite the opposite.
The man who’s going to prison today did not torture or instruct anybody else to torture. Instead, he’s the man who blew the whistle and exposed the CIA torture program.
John Kiriakou is a former CIA agent who spoke publicly about the agency’s policy of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” such as waterboarding. He reports to the low-security federal correctional facility in Loretto, Pennsylvania to serve a 30-month sentence.
He avoided five charges under the anachronistic and punitive Espionage Act by agreeing to a plea deal. He’s only the second person charged under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act and the first for passing along classified information to a reporter.
In this respect, Kiriakou’s case invites comparison with the Valerie Plame affair. Kiriakou revealed the identity of a covert CIA officer to a reporter as a possible source, unaware that the officer was still undercover. The reporter did not publish the name of the operative. In contrast, Robert Novak did publish the name of covert CIA officer Valerie Plame. The Bush administration, who leaked her identity, intended to out her to get back at her husband, Joe Wilson. Libby was convicted of perjury, obstruction of justice and other counts and was later pardoned by George W. Bush before serving his sentence.
But make no mistake, Kiriakou is going to jail for being a whistleblower. At a send-off at the Hay-Adams Hotel, he said, “My case was about torture. The CIA never forgave me for exposing the torture program and saying it was U.S. government policy.”
“What you were convicted of was your conviction,” added Tom Drake, an NSA whistleblower, who was also charged under the Espionage Act in 2011. The ten charges against him were eventually dropped.
Kiriakou did not start out as a whistleblower. The CIA lied to him too about the waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah, and he repeated that lie in a 2007 interview, thereby supporting the argument that enhanced interrogation techniques were effective in getting terrorists to crack. The truth was that Abu Zubaydah never provided useful information after being waterboarded 83 times in one month.
Later he recanted this statement and became critical of the CIA. He didn’t just single out a few rogue agents who tortured but showed that torture was policy instituted by CIA higher-ups. In his book, The Reluctant Spy: My Secret Life in the CIA’s War on Terror, he’s made other truth-telling disclosures of inestimable value to the public: revelations that invading Iraq in 2003 was due to “the ascendance of rank deception” and that the FBI failed to pursue valuable leads in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.
Instead of being sent to jail, Kiriakou should be acclaimed as a hero. Dan Froomkin nails the perverse reality:
Had John Kiriakou actually engaged in torture, he wouldn’t be in any trouble at all — he never even would have been investigated. But because he talked about torture with reporters, he’s going to prison.
The torturers and those who implemented torture are not going to prison. President Obama granted them blanket immunity as part of his “no looking backward” policy. They are still in government and intelligence, advancing in their careers, while the whistleblower who exposed the systematic practice of torture by the U.S. had his career destroyed and will be separated from his five children for two and a half years.
It’s unlikely that Obama will pardon Kiriakou as Bush did Scooter Libby. After all, it’s Obama’s aim to put whistleblowers in jail, not torturers.
Where’s the justice in that?
UPDATE: Ironically, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell just restored Scooter Libby’s voting rights. Yesterday, the Governor’s office released a list of 1,000 felons who had their voting rights restored in 2012. Scooter Libby was among them.
Virginia makes it particularly difficult for those convicted of felonies to regain their voting rights, and the state legislature is resistant to change the law making it any easier. Last month, a House of Delegates subcommittee once again blocked a bill allowing felons to vote. 350,000 Virginians are barred from voting.
Scooter Libby is one of 4,000 that Governor McDonnell has pardoned.
Democracy Now interviews the author of The Rebellious Life ofMrs. Rosa Parks on what would have been her 100th birthday:
On Dec. 1, 1955, Parks refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on a city bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Her act of resistance led to a 13-month boycott of the Montgomery bus system that would help spark the civil rights movement…. Often described as a tired seamstress, no troublemaker, Parks was in fact a dedicated civil-rights activist involved with the movement long before and after her historic action on the Montgomery bus. “Here we have, in many ways, one of the most famous Americans of the 20th century, and yet treated as children’s book hero,” Theoharis says. “We diminish her legacy making it about a single day, a single act, as opposed to the rich and lifelong history of resistance that was actually who Rosa Parks was.”
One of the most significant facts about the life and vocation of Gandhi was his discovery of the East through the West. Like so many others of India, Gandhi received a completely Western education as a young man. He had to a great extent renounced the beliefs, the traditions, the habits of thought, of India. He spoke, thought, and acted like an Englishman, except of course that an Englishman was precisely what he could never, by any miracle, become. He was an alienated Asian whose sole function in life was to be perfectly English without being English at all: to prove the superiority of the West by betraying his own heritage and his own self, thinking as a white man without ceasing to be “a Nigger.” …
Gandhi was unusual in this. Instead of being fooled by the Western costume, and instead of being persuaded that he no longer really existed as an Asian, he recognized that the West had something good about it that was good not because it was Western but because it was also Eastern: that is to say, it was universal. So he turned his face and his heart once again to India, and saw what was really there. It was through his acquaintance with writers like Tolstoy and Thoreau, and then his reading of the New Testament, that Gandhi rediscovered his own tradition and his Hindu dharma (religion, duty). More than a tradition, more than a wisdom handed down in books or celebrated in temples, Gandhi discovered India in discovering himself. Hence it is very important indeed to understand Gandhi’s political life, and particularly his nonviolence, in the light of this radical discovery from which everything else received its meaning. Gandhi’s dedicated struggle for Indian freedom and his insistence on non-violent means in the struggle–both resulted from his new understanding of India and of himself after his contact with a universally valid spiritual tradition which he saw to be common to both East and West.
-Thomas Merton, Gandhi on Non-Violence
Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated on January 30, 1948 in New Delhi.