Code Pink's Media Benjamin managed to break into another presidential event on Thursday, namely Barack Obama's speech at the National Defense University. The topic was "U.S. Counterterrorism Strategy," meaning that the administration's aversion to the T-word seems to be diminishing as the damaging scandal-related news continues to pour in.
Readers will see that Benjamin was relatively civil towards Obama. In fact, Kathleen Hennessey and Christi Parsons at the Los Angeles Times wrote the following: "Rather than dismiss Benjamin as a heckler, the president engaged her, asking her to let him explain but also pausing to listen as she continued to talk while security closed in around her." That behavior is in direct contrast to how she behaved last decade during the Bush administration -- something never mentioned in any coverage of Thursday's speech I found. The full exchange with Obama followed by a recounting of what made Benjamin an overnight sensation in Sepetmber 2002, follow the jump.
First, the Thursday afternoon exchange:
And given my administration’s relentless pursuit of al Qaeda’s leadership, there is no justification beyond politics for Congress to prevent us from closing a facility that should have never have been opened. (Applause.)
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Excuse me, President Obama --
THE PRESIDENT: So -- let me finish, ma'am. So today, once again --
AUDIENCE MEMBER: There are 102 people on a hunger strike. These are desperate people.
THE PRESIDENT: I'm about to address it, ma'am, but you've got to let me speak. I'm about to address it.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: You're our Commander-In-Chief --
THE PRESIDENT: Let me address it.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: -- you an close Guantanamo Bay.
THE PRESIDENT: Why don’t you let me address it, ma'am.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: There’s still prisoners --
THE PRESIDENT: Why don’t you sit down and I will tell you exactly what I'm going to do.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: That includes 57 Yemenis.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, ma'am. Thank you. (Applause.) Ma'am, thank you. You should let me finish my sentence.
Today, I once again call on Congress to lift the restrictions on detainee transfers from GTMO. (Applause.)
I have asked the Department of Defense to designate a site in the United States where we can hold military commissions. I’m appointing a new senior envoy at the State Department and Defense Department whose sole responsibility will be to achieve the transfer of detainees to third countries.
I am lifting the moratorium on detainee transfers to Yemen so we can review them on a case-by-case basis. To the greatest extent possible, we will transfer detainees who have been cleared to go to other countries.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: -- prisoners already. Release them today.
THE PRESIDENT: Where appropriate, we will bring terrorists to justice in our courts and our military justice system. And we will insist that judicial review be available for every detainee.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: It needs to be --
THE PRESIDENT: Now, ma'am, let me finish. Let me finish, ma'am. Part of free speech is you being able to speak, but also, you listening and me being able to speak. (Applause.)
Now, even after we take these steps one issue will remain -- just how to deal with those GTMO detainees who we know have participated in dangerous plots or attacks but who cannot be prosecuted, for example, because the evidence against them has been compromised or is inadmissible in a court of law. But once we commit to a process of closing GTMO, I am confident that this legacy problem can be resolved, consistent with our commitment to the rule of law.
I know the politics are hard. But history will cast a harsh judgment on this aspect of our fight against terrorism and those of us who fail to end it. Imagine a future -- 10 years from now or 20 years from now -- when the United States of America is still holding people who have been charged with no crime on a piece of land that is not part of our country. Look at the current situation, where we are force-feeding detainees who are being held on a hunger strike. I'm willing to cut the young lady who interrupted me some slack because it's worth being passionate about. Is this who we are? Is that something our Founders foresaw? Is that the America we want to leave our children? Our sense of justice is stronger than that.
We have prosecuted scores of terrorists in our courts. That includes Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who tried to blow up an airplane over Detroit; and Faisal Shahzad, who put a car bomb in Times Square. It's in a court of law that we will try Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who is accused of bombing the Boston Marathon. Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, is, as we speak, serving a life sentence in a maximum security prison here in the United States. In sentencing Reid, Judge William Young told him, “The way we treat you…is the measure of our own liberties.”
AUDIENCE MEMBER: How about Abdulmutallab -- locking up a 16-year-old -- is that the way we treat a 16-year old? (Inaudible) -- can you take the drones out of the hands of the CIA? Can you stop the signature strikes killing people on the basis of suspicious activities?
THE PRESIDENT: We’re addressing that, ma’am.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: -- thousands of Muslims that got killed -- will you compensate the innocent families -- that will make us safer here at home. I love my country. I love (inaudible) --
THE PRESIDENT: I think that -- and I’m going off script, as you might expect here. (Laughter and applause.) The voice of that woman is worth paying attention to. (Applause.) 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.
At that point, according the Politico's Jennifer Epstein, Benjamin, as she was being escorted away, said: "Abide by the rule of law, you're a constitutional lawyer."
Benjamin and an accomplice were virtually hailed as national heroes in front-page photos at the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, and elsewhere in September 2002 when they were dragged kicking and screaming out of a hearing where Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was testifying after frequent interruptions and the unfurling of a banner which read, "Inspections, Not War."
This week, Benjamin got a relatively small amount of notice from the Politico's Epstein, a terse five paragraphs at the Associated Press, a longer item at the Washington Post's Post Politics blog, as well as stories at the New York Times and the aforementioned LA Times, which also described Obama as "careful and almost deferential."
Also not mentioned: Code Pink co-founder Jodie Evans was a bundler (the link is to a Politico item; Jennifer Epstein, call your office) for Obama's 2008 election campaign -- which would explain why Thursday's exchange between Benjamin and Obama seemed more like a lovers' quarrel than a genuine protest.
Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.