Drone Victims Take on Washington DC

Medea Benjamin

Faisal bin Ali Gaber is a soft-spoken engineer from Yemen. After he lost his cousin and brother-in-law in a drone strike in August 2012, he published an open letter to President Obama and Yemeni President Hadi. He said his brother-in-law was an imam who had strongly and publicly opposed al-Qaeda, and that his young cousin was a policeman. “Our town was no battlefield. We had no warning. Our local police were never asked to make any arrest,” he wrote to the presidents. “Your silence in the face of these injustices only makes matters worse. If the strike was a mistake, the family — like all wrongly bereaved families of this secret air war — deserve a formal apology.”

Now Faisal Gaber will get a chance to appeal directly to the American people. This weekend for the first time ever, a Yemeni delegation of drone strike victims’ family members, human rights experts and grassroots leaders will be visiting Washington as part of the Global Drone Summit–– You can watch the Summit live all weekend on the CODEPINK livestream channel.

While the CIA and US military have been using lethal drones for over a decade, this will be only the second time that drone victims have gotten visas to come to the United States to tell their stories. The first visit was just a few weeks ago when, on October 29, the Rehman family — a father with his two children — came all the way from the Pakistani tribal territory of North Waziristan to the US Capitol to tell the heart-wrenching story of the death of the children’s beloved 67-year-old grandmother. The hearing, convened by Congressman Alan Grayson, had the congressman, the translator and the public in tears. The Rehman family’s story is documented in the new film Unmanned: America’s Drone Wars by Robert Greenwald of Brave New Foundation, which was released at the time of their visit.


Why I Spoke Out at Obama’s Foreign Policy Speech

Medea Benjamin


CODEPINK founder Medea Benjamin interrupts Presi-
dent Barack Obama's national security speech, Thursday,
May 23, 2013, at the National Defense University at Fort
McNair in Washington.

Having worked for years on the issues of drones and Guantanamo, I was delighted to get a pass (the source will remain anonymous) to attend President Obama’s speech at the National Defense University. I had read many press reports anticipating what the President might say. There was much talk about major policy shifts that would include transparency with the public, new guidelines for the use of drones, taking lethal drones out of the purview of the CIA, and in the case of Guantanamo, invoking the “waiver system” to begin the transfer of prisoners already cleared for release.

Sitting at the back of the auditorium, I hung on every word the President said. I kept waiting to hear an announcement about changes that would represent a significant shift in policy. Unfortunately, I heard nice words, not the resetting of failed policies.

Instead of announcing the transfer of drone strikes from the CIA to the exclusive domain of the military, Obama never even mentioned the CIA—much less acknowledge the killing spree that the CIA has been carrying out in Pakistan during his administration. While there were predictions that he would declare an end to signature strikes, strikes based merely on suspicious behavior that have been responsible for so many civilian casualties, no such announcement was made.


Media Responses to Obama's Speech

Stephen Lendman

Rhetoric substitutes for real change. Believing it's forthcoming is fool's hope. Nothing suggests otherwise.

The media didn't surprise. Media scoundrels support his worst policies. His neoliberal harshness is endorsed. His alliance with monied interests gets no coverage. His crimes of war, against humanity and genocide go unmentioned. His partnership with Israel against Palestine isn't explained. His systematic disdain for rule of law principles gets ignored.

Responses to his Thursday speech were largely positive. Challenging them follows below.

New York Times editors headlined "The End of the Perpetual War," saying:

"For the first time, a president stated clearly and unequivocally that the state of perpetual warfare that began nearly 12 years ago is unsustainable for a democracy and must come to an end in the not-too-distant future." "(T)here is no underestimating the importance of that statement." [Obama] "told the world that the United States must return to a state in which counterterrorism is handled.primarily by law enforcement and the intelligence agencies." [He] "announced important shifts in the policy of using unmanned drones" to kill targeted individuals." [He] "called on Congress to remove the restrictions (on) transfer(ing) detainees from the prison in Cuba." [He] "pledged to create new protections for Americans' civil liberties." [He] said a " 'free press is essential for our democracy.'" "There have been times when we wished we could hear the right words from Mr. Obama on issues like these, and times we heard the words but wondered about his commitment." "This was not either of those moments."


Obama: Defending the Indefensible

Stephen Lendman

His doublespeak duplicity reflects the last refuge of a scoundrel. He's the worst in recent memory. Perhaps the worst ever. Forked tongue rhetoric can't disguise it.

Throughout his tenure, he governed lawlessly. He's done so at home and abroad. He spurns rule of law principles and other democratic values. Nothing suggests change. Business as usual continues. War on humanity is policy. Rogue leaders govern that way. Obama threatens everyone.

On May 23, he spoke at Washington's National Defense University. He defended what he urged changing four years earlier. More on his Thursday address below.

On May 21, 2009, he spoke at the National Archives. He addressed national security. He said America can't be safe "unless we enlist the power of our most fundamental values."


Obama offers tortured defense of targeted killings

Joseph Kishore

In his speech on Thursday at the National Defense University in Washington, DC, US President Barack Obama offered a tortured defense of extra-judicial assassinations, for the first time publicly acknowledging the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, a US citizen, in September 2011.

Obama’s remarks were characterized by an essential contradiction. He sought to defend drone assassinations, while at the same time essentially acknowledging their illegality and the illegality of much of what the American government has done over the past decade.

A tone of nervousness and defensiveness pervaded Obama’s remarks, reflecting awareness within the ruling class that what they are doing is not only illegal, but also increasingly unpopular. Significantly, the speech was repeatedly interrupted by a woman who denounced the administration’s policy on drone assassinations and the detention center at Guantanamo Bay.

Obama’s admission that he had ordered the killing of Awlaki is part of an effort by the administration to bring the assassination program “into the open,” to institutionalize it and turn it into a permanent feature of US policy.


Obama legalizes the illegal, targets innocents

Ismail Salami

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange was bitterly right when he said US President Barack Obama “seems to be a nice man, and that is precisely the problem” and aptly described him as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing”.

Under the pretext of combating terrorism, Obama has followed in the footsteps of former President George Bush and even intensified the killer drone attacks in different parts of the world, a move which has terminated in the unfortunate deaths of multitudes of innocent people. President Obama argues that the drone strikes are focused efforts to exterminate people who are on a list of active terrorists and that they have not caused huge human losses.

Pakistani lawyer Shahzad Akbar, who represents families of civilians killed in US killer drone strikes, says, "Either President Obama is lying to the nation, or he is too naive, to believe on the reports which CIA is presenting to [him]." In a similar strain, Medea Benjamin, co-founder of CODEPINK has said:

"So many people who spoke out against George [W.] Bush’s extraordinary rendition and Guantánamo and indefinite detention have been very quiet when it comes to the Obama administration, who is not putting people in those same kind of conditions, instead is just taking them out and killing them. So we need to make people speak up and say that when Obama says this [program] is on a tight leash, this is not true, this is a lie."

Only in Pakistan, Obama has authorized over 300 drone attacks and has killed innocent civilians. A new study by Stanford Law School and New York University's School of Law shows that the killer “drone strikes in Pakistan have killed far more people than the United States has acknowledged, have traumatized innocent residents and largely been ineffective.” Besides, the study calls for a re-evaluation of the practice, saying the number of "high-level" targets killed as a percentage of total casualties is extremely low - about 2%. The report says Washington is misrepresenting drone strikes as "a surgically precise and effective tool that makes the US safer," saying that in reality, "there is significant evidence that US drone strikes have injured and killed civilians."


Colin Powell: Another War Criminal Cashes In

Charles Davis & Medea Benjamin

Blindly obeying authority – always for personal gain – has been a hallmark of Powell’s career. ["It Worked for Me"]

One could be forgiven for thinking there's anything honorable or honest about Colin Powell. For more than two decades now the Washington media has portrayed the former Secretary of State as something of a real life action hero, a reluctant warrior whose greatest fault – should they deign to mention any – was just being too darn loyal to a guy named George and his buddy Dick. What you might have missed is that Powell is a war criminal in his own right, one who in more than four decades of “public service” helped kill people from Vietnam to Panama to Iraq who never posed a threat to America. But don't just take some anti-war activists' word for it: Powell will proudly tell you as much, so long as he can make a buck from doing it in a book.

Powell's latest $27.99 account of his legendary life is billed as a “powerful portrait of a leader who is reflective, self-effacing, and grateful for the contributions of everyone he works with.” But the title, It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership, could very well refer to Powell's own careerist ambitions: saying and doing whatever served the interests of power – as a young officer in Vietnam, as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the illegal invasion of Panama, as Secretary of State under George W. Bush – has worked out tremendously well for the man, if not so much for those unfortunate enough to be on the receiving end of his public service.

Though billed as a self-effacing, humble leader prepared to admit mistakes, the real Colin Powell is not the one advertised by the P.R. department at HarperCollins. His book makes that clear enough when he discusses his now infamous 2003 presentation before the United Nations on Iraq's alleged stockpiling of weapons of mass destruction. Nearly every line in that speech has since proven to be false – indeed, much of his presentation was known to be false at the time – but you won't find Powell owning up to that.


Obama and Drone Warfare: Will Americans Speak Out?

Medea Benjamin


The dead victim of a CIA Predator Drone in Western Pakistan

“When women and children in Waziristan are killed with Hellfire missiles, Pakistanis believe this is what the American people want. I would like to ask Americans, ‘Do you?’”

On May 29, The New York Times published an extraordinary in-depth look at the intimate role President Obama has played in authorizing US drone attacks overseas, particularly in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. It is chilling to read the cold, macabre ease with which the President and his staff decide who will live or die. The fate of people living thousands of miles away is decided by a group of Americans, elected and unelected, who don’t speak their language, don’t know their culture, don’t understand their motives or values. While purporting to represent the world’s greatest democracy, US leaders are putting people on a hit list who are as young as 17, people who are given no chance to surrender, and certainly no chance to be tried in a court of law.

Who is furnishing the President and his aides with this list of terrorist suspects to choose from, like baseball cards? The kind of intelligence used to put people on drone hit lists is the same kind of intelligence that put people in Guantanamo. Remember how the American public was assured that the prisoners locked up in Guantanamo were the “worst of the worst,” only to find out that hundreds were innocent people who had been sold to the US military by bounty hunters?

Why should the public believe what the Obama administration says about the people being assassinated by drones? Especially since, as we learn in the New York Times, the administration came up with a semantic solution to keep the civilian death toll to a minimum: simply count all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants. The rationale, reminiscent of George Zimmerman’s justification for shooting Trayvon Martin, is that “people in an area of known terrorist activity, or found with a top Qaeda operative, are probably up to no good.” Talk about profiling! At least when George Bush threw suspected militants into Guantánamo their lives were spared.


Why I Interrupted Obama Counterterrorism Adviser John Brennan

Medea Benjamin

Fact check: There have been some 3,000 Pakistanis killed in drone attacks, of whom only 170 have been identified as known “militants”. (Editor)

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 [alleged] 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.


Enlisting Michelle Obama—and the American Public—to Stop War on Iran

Medea Benjamin & Rae Abileah


Alice Walker. (Pls. sign the petition)

On Friday, March 30, First Lady Michelle Obama received an unusual request at her San Francisco fundraiser. Instead of “Can I have a picture with you?,” one major donor asked, “Will you use your leadership to prevent an attack on Iran?” Kristin Hull hand delivered to Ms. Obama a petition against war on Iran that was signed by prominent women including Gloria Steinem, Alice Walker, and Eve Ensler, and over 20,000 American women and allies.Hull implored the First Lady to think of the military families and veterans who have paid the price of war. Ms. Obama has championed veterans’ issues while in office and for this reason, in addition to her obvious proximity to the President, women’s groups have made her a focus of their peace efforts.

Ms. Obama thanked Hull for her advocacy and said, “Keep up the great work.” As Hull was walking away after her photo with the First Lady, Michelle Obama grabbed her hand, squeezed it and said, “We really need you.”

The petition implores three powerful American female politicians—Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Ambassador Susan Rice and First Lady Michelle Obama—to use their influence to push for diplomacy, not bombing, in US relations with Iran. The next step will be to hand-deliver the petition to Clinton. CODEPINK launched this petition online on March 20th, the 9th anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq (coincidentally also on the Iranian New Year, Norooz), with a call from Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker. “Nine years ago, I joined CODEPINK in front of the White House in an act of civil disobedience to try to stop our government from bombing Iraq,” said Alice Walker. “None of us could live with ourselves if we sat by idly while a country filled with children was blown to bits using money we needed in the United States to build hospitals, housing and schools. We must not let another tragic war begin.”


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