By Ted Braun
Kings, presidents, and others in positions of high authority have always had a difficult time being on the receiving end of public contradiction or criticism. Such an example even made it into the Bible in Amos 7 when the high priest of the king told Amos to quit prophesying in the king’s sanctuary and go back home and do it there.
We had an example of this highly improper behavior this past Thursday when President Obama gave a talk at a press conference in the National Defense University in Washington, DC. His two topics were new directions in the nation’s drone killing program and the Guantanamo incarceration program.
The president was interrupted several times by a woman in the audience, Medea Benjamin, co-founder of the women’s organization CodePink, who challenged Obama to answer questions concerning the drone killing of American citizens in the Middle East and the hunger strike at the Guantanamo prison and the need to close it down. At least he didn’t tell her to go home and proclaim her prophetic utterances there, especially since she was a resident of DC. As she was being escorted out of the room, however, he did comment, “The voice of that woman is worth paying attention to. 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.”
What the president did not know was that Medea had been part of a delegation sponsored by CodePink Women for Peace that had visited Pakistan last October to talk to drone victim families, lawyers, academics, representatives of major Pakistani political parties, and U.S. officials. Obama has recommended continuing the drone program but transferring it from the CIA to the Pentagon. The CodePink delegation, however, felt strongly that the drone program was doing more harm than good, and was generating more enemies of the U.S. than helping our nation.
This past February the U.S. Justice Department revealed its legal rationale for our drone program abroad: The president has authority to order targeted assassinations of anyone—including U.S. citizens—believed to be associated with al Qaida, even without intelligence linking them to an active plot to attack the U.S. Such assassinations can be considered “lawful acts of self-defense.” Many of these attacks are termed “signature strikes,” based on patterns of activity such as men bearing arms in an area controlled by extremist groups, or gathering together for family or community occasions for purposes that are not immediately apparent.
Last year Obama authorized at least 46 drone strikes in Yemen. These have had a major impact upon that nation. Last month a Senate subcommittee held a hearing entitled “Drone Wars: The Constitutional and Counter-terrorism Implications of Targeted Killings.” One of those who testified was a Yemeni national, Farea Al-muslimi. He said “Just six days ago my village of Wessab was struck by a U.S. drone in an attack that terrified thousands of simple, poor farmers. The drone strike and its impact tore my heart, much as the tragic bombing in Boston last week tore your hearts and also mine. The drone strikes are the face of America to many Yemenis. What radicals had previously failed to achieve in my village, one drone strike accomplished in an instant. There is now an intense anger and growing hatred of America.”
He offered the following advice on how to better handle the situation in Yemen. The U.S. government should take the following steps: “Stop all the targeted killing strikes. Announce the names of those already on the ‘kill list,’ so that innocent civilians can stay out of harm’s way. Issue an official apology to the families of all civilians killed or injured by targeted killing strikes. Compensate the families of innocent civilians killed or injured by strikes conducted or authorized by the United States. In every village where there has been a targeted killing, build a school or a hospital so that the villagers’ only experience with America will not be the death and destruction caused by an American missile.”
Are we in the U.S. up to such a challenge?
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This column is sponsored by Cumberland Countians for Peace and Justice and dedicated by the local writers to the theme that the lion and the lamb can and must learn to live together and grow in their relationship toward one another to ensure a better world. Opinions expressed in “Lion and the Lamb” columns are not necessarily those of the Crossville Chronicle publisher, editor or staff. For more information, contact Ted Braun, editor, at 277-5135.