Here Comes Trouble: Stories from My Life

"Outstanding…Moore Triumphs! Publishers Weekly

Mike & Friends Blog

Medea Benjamin

Medea Benjamin is cofounder of the women-led peace group CODEPINK and the human rights/fair trade group Global Exchange.

May 1st, 2012 6:42 PM

Why I Interrupted Obama Counter-terrorism Adviser John Brennan

Counterterrorism adviser John Brennan spoke at the Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington DC on April 30 to mark the one-year anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden. It was the first time a high level member of the Obama Administration spoke at length about the U.S. drone strikes that the CIA and the Joint Special Operations Command have been carrying out in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.

“President Obama has instructed us to be more open with the American people about these efforts,” Brennan explained.

I had just co-organized a Drone Summit over the weekend, where Pakistani lawyer Shahzad Akbar told us heart-wrenching stories about the hundreds of innocent victims of our drone attacks. We saw horrific photos of people whose bodies were blown apart by Hellfire missiles, with only a hand or a slab of flesh remaining. We saw poor children on the receiving end of our attacks—maimed for life, with no legs, no eyes, no future. And for all these innocents, there was no apology, no compensation, not even an acknowledgement of their losses. Nothing.

The U.S. government refuses to disclose who has been killed, for what reason, and with what collateral consequences. It deems the entire world a war zone, where it can operate at will, beyond the confines of international law.

So there I was at the Wilson Center, listening to Brennan describe our policies as ethical, “wise,” and in compliance with international law. He spoke as if the only people we kill with our drone strikes are militants bent on killing Americans. “It is unfortunate that to save innocent lives we are sometimes obliged to take lives – the lives of terrorists who seek to murder our fellow citizens.” The only mention of taking innocent lives referred to Al Qaeda. “Al Qaeda’s killing of innocent civilians, mostly Muslim men, women and children, has badly tarnished its image and appeal in the eyes of Muslims around the world.” This is true, but the same must be said of U.S. policies that fuel anti-American sentiments in the eyes of Muslims around the world.

So I stood up and in a calm voice, spoke out.

“Excuse me, Mr. Brennan, will you speak out about the innocents killed by the United States in our drone strikes? What about the hundreds of innocent people we are killing with drone strikes in the Philippines, in Yemen, in Somalia? I speak out on behalf of those innocent victims. They deserve an apology from you, Mr. Brennan. How many people are you willing to sacrifice? Why are you lying to the American people and not saying how many innocents have been killed?”

My heart was racing as a female security guard and then a burly Federal Protection Service policeman started pulling me out, but I kept talking.

“I speak out on behalf of Tariq Aziz, a 16-year-old in Pakistan who was killed simply because he wanted to document the drone strikes. I speak out on behalf of Abdulrahman Al-Awlaki, a 16-year-old born in Denver, killed in Yemen just because his father was someone we don’t like. I speak out on behalf of the Constitution and the rule of law.” My parting words as they dragged me out the door were, “I love the rule of law and I love my country. You are making us less safe by killing so many innocent people. Shame on you, John Brennan.”

I was handcuffed and taken to the basement of the building, where I was questioned about my background and motives. To their credit, it seems the Wilson Center thought it would not be good to have someone arrested for exercising their right to free speech, so I was released.

Brennan’s speech came the day after another U.S. drone strike in Pakistan, one that  killed three alleged militants. After the strike, the Pakistani government voiced its strongest and most public condemnation yet, accusing the United States of violating Pakistani sovereignty, calling the campaign “a total contravention of international law and established norms of interstate relations.” Earlier in April the Pakistani Parliament unanimously condemned drone strikes and established a new set of guidelines for rebuilding the country’s frayed relationship with the United States, which included the immediate cessation of all drone strikes in Pakistani territory.

The attacks in Pakistan, carried out by the CIA, started in 2004. Since then, there have been over 300 strikes. The areas where the strikes take place have been sealed off by the Pakistani security forces, so it has been difficult to get accurate reports about deaths and damages. John Brennan has denied that innocents have even been killed. Speaking in June 2011 about the preceding year, he said “there hasn’t been a single collateral death because of the exceptional proficiency, precision of the capabilities we’ve been able to develop.” Mr. Brennan later adjusted his statement somewhat, saying, “Fortunately, for more than a year, due to our discretion and precision, the U.S. government has not found credible evidence of collateral deaths resulting from U.S. counterterrorism operations outside of Afghanistan or Iraq.”

This is just not true. The UK-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism is the group that keeps the best count of casualties from U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. According to its figures, since 2004, U.S. has killed between about 2,500-3,000 people in Pakistan. Of those, between 479 and 811 were civilians, 174 of them children.

Shahzad Akbar, a Pakistani lawyer who has been representing drone victims and who started the group Foundation for Fundamental Rights, disputes even these figures and claims that the vast majority of those killed are ordinary civilians. “I have a problem with this word ‘militant.’ Most of the victims who are labeled militants might be Taliban sympathizers but they are not involved in any criminal or terrorist acts, and certainly not against the United States,” he claimed. He said the Americans often assumes that if someone wears a turban, has a beard and carries a weapon, he is a combatant. “That is a description of all the men in that region of Pakistan. It is part of their culture.” Shahzad believes that only those people who the Americans label “high-value targets”, which would be less than 200, should be considered militants; all others should be considered civilian victims.

While President Obama is gearing up for an election campaign and using his drone-strike killing spree to as a sign of his tough stance on national security, people from across the United States and around the world are organizing to rein in the drones.

Gathering in Washington DC on April 28-29, they came up with a new campaign to educate the American public about civilian deaths in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere as a result of the use of drones for illegal killing and to pressure members of Congress, President Obama, federal agencies, and state and local governments to restrict the use of drones for illegal killing and surveillance. The tactics include court challenges, delegations to the affected regions, direct action at U.S. bases from where the drones are operated, student campaigns to divest from companies involved in the production of killer drones and outreach to faith-based communities.

If you would like to get involved, make sure to sign up here

- Medea Benjamin, cofounder of CODEPINK and Global Exchange, is author of a new book Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control. To have Medea come speak about drones and her new book in your community, contact her assistant at Alli[@]codepink.org.

You must log in to comment.

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Log in | Register

My father, Francis (Frank) Moore, passed away this morning a few months shy if his 93rd birthday. He was a great dad I am blessed to have had him in my life. I...

Apr 20th
2:58 AM
Read More

Time to put the cuffs on Chris Christie -- not for the bridge scandal, but for this: Chris Christie's $300m pension proposal broke state anti-corruption...

Apr 18th
7:31 PM
Read More

George W. Bush Debuts New Paintings Of Dogs, Friends, Ghost Of Iraqi Child That Follows Him... www.theonion.com President Bush has a new hobby -- painting! --...

Apr 17th
7:28 PM
Read More

Big new story from David Sirota and Pando on top Christie adviser and appearance of corruption at New Jersey's pension fund: REVEALED: Gov....

Apr 17th
12:41 PM
Read More

FBI Uncovers Al-Qaeda Plot To Just Sit Back And Enjoy Collapse Of United States www.theonion.com WASHINGTON—The FBI announced today that it has uncovered a...

Apr 15th
3:28 PM
Read More

Revealed: Rahm Emanuel's top donor bought stock in Marriott just before it was awarded huge contract pando.com As schools are closed and pensions cut,...

Apr 9th
2:00 PM
Read More

I'll be at First Time Fest today in New York City at the screening of my first film, Roger & Me. Loews Village 7 at 12:30 pm. Come see it on the big...

Apr 5th
9:48 AM
Read More

Revealed: Rahm Emanuel cuts public pensions, diverts money to benefit campaign donors pando.com If you've read the financial news out of Chicago the last...

Apr 4th
2:19 PM
Read More

Please take a moment today to think of Casey Austin Sheehan, son of Cindy and Patrick, who was murdered by U.S. foreign policy in Sadr City, Baghdad ten years...

Apr 4th
2:00 PM
Read More

ICYMI - I've joined this "thunderclap" to support the Connecticut legislators who voted yes on last year's Act Concerning Gun Violence...

Apr 3rd
7:38 PM
Read More

I've joined this "thunderclap" to support the Connecticut legislators who voted yes on last year's Act Concerning Gun Violence Prevention...

Apr 2nd
8:27 PM
Read More

I am opposed to the death penalty, but to every rule there is usually an exception, and in this case I hope the criminals at General Motors will be arrested...

Apr 1st
3:55 PM
Read More

How Long Some in the US Will Survive Under New Health Law ...by Donna Smith www.michaelmoore.com Those who must access care to live and can afford it are not...

Mar 31st
10:13 PM
Read More

Last night, The Good Wife on the East Coast started 40 minutes late due to the overrun of the NCAA basketball game. If you had your DVR set for the show, you...

Mar 24th
5:41 PM
Read More

Watching films today, looking for the ones I'm going to pick for my film festival this summer. I (and a whole bunch of others!) have this thing we put on...

Mar 23rd
4:48 PM
Read More

When the U.S. Health Care System Keeps Killing, Who Cares Enough to Fight? ...by Donna Smith www.michaelmoore.com We have largely forgotten that people are at...

Mar 21st
5:56 PM
Read More

Tell the White House not to give up on Dr. Vivek Murthy's nomination as Surgeon General despite the ferocious opposition from the NRA: Don't give...

Mar 21st
5:38 PM
Read More

This criminal would never see a jail cell, nor would his cronies. In fact, they'd later be rewarded with re-election: Presidential Address on War with...

Mar 19th
9:40 PM
Read More

The crime of the century -- our invasion & slaughter in Iraq -- started 11 years ago tonite in this 7pm (ET) hour, March 19th, 2003: CNN Coverage of...

Mar 19th
9:08 PM
Read More

Washington’s Back-to-the-Future Military Policies in Africa ...by Nick Turse www.michaelmoore.com Nick Turse is an award-winning journalist, historian,...

Mar 17th
4:59 PM
Read More

"I think democracy is the most revolutionary thing in the world." -- Tony Benn, 1925-2014 Tony Benn in 'Sicko'

Mar 14th
10:07 AM
Read More

RIP Tony Benn, one of the UK's greatest leaders: Tony Benn, veteran Labour politician, dies aged 88 www.theguardian.com Former cabinet minister died at...

Mar 14th
9:53 AM
Read More

Please read this important story from K. Ford K.: Am I the Face of the New American Middle Class? www.huffingtonpost.com I began to feel I had slipped so low...

Mar 13th
2:24 PM
Read More

Yesterday Dianne Feinstein revealed that the CIA has been spying on the Senate Intelligence Committee. This is all about the report the committee has produced...

Mar 12th
6:48 PM
Read More

Health Care for All Colorado has brought Mercy Killers, a show written and performed by Michael Milligan about our murderous for-profit healthcare system, to...

Mar 10th
1:08 PM
Read More

Health Care Dramas that Sting and Why We Have to Watch ...by Donna Smith www.michaelmoore.com The realities Milligan has written into the show cut deep into...

Mar 10th
1:02 PM
Read More

Did you know the Lehrer Newshour on PBS has been produced for 20 years by a company owned by conservative cable billionaire John Malone? Me neither. After...

Mar 7th
8:39 PM
Read More

Mr. Obama, if int’l law is so damn crucial . . . | RootsAction.org act.rootsaction.org The Russian intervention deserves criticism. But let’s be clear. The...

Mar 6th
1:21 PM
Read More

Enron billionaire John Arnold thinks everyone should believe him when he says we've got to cut pensions because he's so incredibly rich: John...

Mar 5th
4:20 PM
Read More

Subscribe to Mike's Blog RSS

Click here to suggest an article

Mike's Blog

See More Blogs

Vew the archives

View older articles