Medea Benjamin

Medea Benjamin Co-Founder and Manager of Code Pink

Obama and Guantanamo: “Disgusting”  - Part One

Download audio file  14 January, 08:59

It has been 12 shameful years since the opening of the extra-judicial Guantanamo Bay prison and the US continues to illegally hold 155 men indefinitely in violation of every basic human right. Despite the Obama Administration and the US Government classifying everything about the illegal location, so the world community does not know what is really going on, news continues to seep out. In an interview with the Voice of Russia Medea Benjamin, who has been fighting for the rights of the people at Guantanamo almost since day one, reveals that the hunger strikes continue. The US wants to continue to hold these people because they do not want the world to know what they have done to the prisoners there. Treatment such as that received by Omar Deghayes who had a guard try to gouge out both of his eyes and was left blind is not something Obama wants the world to hear about.

Hello, this is John Robles. I'm speaking with Medea Benjamin, the co-founder and manager of Code Pink. This is part 1 of a longer interview. You can find the rest of this interview on our website at Voice of Russia dot com.

Robles: Hello, Medea, how are you?

Benjamin: I'm very good, thank you.

Robles: Thanks for agreeing to do the interview especially on such short notice. Regarding the date, yesterday was a very important anniversary for many people around the world. What was that anniversary?

Benjamin: It marked the beginning of 12 years since the opening of the Guantanamo prison and every year it is another shameful reminder that the US continues to hold now, 155 men indefinitely in violation of every basic human rights that these people should have.

Robles: One of the detainees Shaker Aamer (if I'm pronouncing his name correctly) recently wrote a letter, an open letter. Can you tell us about his letter? And it portrays to me, I read it myself, and I think this is something that is very important: the human side of these men that are being held in there. I mean, there are human beings.

Benjamin: We had written to Shaker Aamer's lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith with the group Reprieve, and asked could Shaker send a message to us to read out at the different protests that are happening around the world on, today January 11th, and he sent a beautiful message that reminds us that, yes, that these are not people that have just numbers, these are real people with excruciatingly painful lives and what was so beautiful about Shaker Aamer’s message is it talked about his biggest regret being that he hasn't been able to give his children what he called “the reservoir of love” that they deserve.

He even said that he hadn't seen his youngest child ever, because his youngest child was born on the very day that he arrived in Guantanamo, February 14, 2002, which by the was in the US is Valentine's Day.

And it was so agonizing to read this letter because he talked about his obligation of a father to help shape children when they are young and that he hasn't been able to do his duty as a father, it is something that was so painful for him. But he also talked about the conditions there, the cells they are in and the fact that he is on another hunger strike which we did not know.

The Obama Administration has decided that they are no longer even going to give out the numbers of people in prison who are on hunger strike. We got this last year and that what caused the international outcry when it was discovered that over a hundred of the prisoners were on a hunger strike and many of them being force fed. Now we can't even get that information but we do know that Shaker Aamer and I'm sure others are once again on a hunger strike and suffering terribly.

Robles: So that information has been classified as well or..?

Benjamin: Yes, under some ridiculous thing that for “the well being of the Americans there in Guantanamo”, they can't release that information.

It is absolutely ridiculous and it is an attempt to take away the last tiny voice that these prisoners had. Imagine, resorting to a hunger strike because that is the only way you can wake up the world and say “Hello, we are still here, do something about it”.

That is what was happening all of last year. Now they don't even have that ability because if they are on a hunger strike, we don't even know about it.

Robles: Oh my goodness. I recently talked to Michael Ratner, you know who he is, and his Center for Constitutional Rights who are representing a lot of the people being detained there, and he told me that apparently one of the detainees was trying to complain about the conditions. And he was expelled from the court and basically he could not speak about the torture that he was going through because they said that was classified. If you could comment on that, about the classifying of torture and the actual conditions that the inmates or the “prisoners” there are going through?

Benjamin: We only hear about what the prisoners are going through once they are released from prison. There is a prisoner Omar Deghayes, who once he left prison was able to talk about how he was so tortured that he lost one of his eyes while in Guantanamo.

So yes, it is classified the kind of treatment they are getting, it is classified whether they are now participating in a hunger strike.

Journalists who are allowed to go to Guantanamo are not allowed to talk to the prisoners, so it is very difficult to get information about what these prisoners are going through. But just even imagine on the very level of the amount of time that they are spending there, to think that 12 years of these men's life have been taken away from them, and let us remember that of 155 prisoners who are still there, 78 of them and that is a majority of them, have been cleared for release.

That means they have been designated by the Department of Justice, the Homeland Security and other US government agencies that they represent no threat to the US and even when they are on this list of “cleared for release”, they have not been cleared except for a trickle that started last year in fact in December of 2013 – there were 9 prisoners who had been released.

This was the beginning of opening the gate again. But the 78 prisoners cleared for release should be released immediately, they shouldn't be under this agony of knowing that they have been given this designation but still not allowed to leave the prison.

Robles: Yeah, that is unbelievable.

Just a reminder you are listening to an interview with Medea Benjamin.

Robles: I noticed one of the things about Mr. Aamer’s letter, I thought this was a little shocking and very disturbing, he said that they pay the price there inside Guantanamo, every time somebody does something outside.

That seems like an attempt to, maybe, stifle protests or stifle anyone trying to help them. What is going on with that?

Benjamin: What was interesting, I think, was the context in which he put it is that if somebody outside in, let's say, a place like Yemen, does some kind of violent action to protest the indefinite detention of prisoners in Guantanamo, that has negative reverberations inside the prison.

The example is that because of the unrest in Yemen, the Obama Administration now says that it cannot repatriate the Yemeni prisoners (56 of those cleared for release are from Yemen) and so his message was: “We are glad if you are going to do something to show support for us, but do it in a non violent way'”.

And I think that is recognizing that violence is not the answer and so you have to scratch your head and wonder: “Why are they keeping a guy like Shaker Aamer, who has been cleared for release 3 years now, whose message is one of non-violence in this prison, whose family lives in London, in England and only wants to be repatriated to England to be with his family. Why aren't we releasing this person?

It is one thing, and I don't agree with it, to say: “Prisoners, it is too unstable in Yemen to send people back”. I don't agree, but then what excuses are there not to send somebody back to England?

Robles: That is right, absolutely. I know this might seem a little extreme but it seems to me they are being used as hostages.

Benjamin: I wouldn't so much call it “being used as hostages”, I think they are the throwaways according to the Obama Administration, their lives are not worth very much.

The Obama Administration does not want to be in the position of having released people from Guantanamo who are then seen to pick up arms against Americans.

And they would rather violate these prisoners' basic rights, be hypocritical in the eyes of the world in terms of preaching human rights abroad but not doing it at home, they'd rather do that than free these prisoners.

So I think it is a very cold political calculation on behalf of the Obama Administration that it is just not worth it to release them.

Robles: I don't think the security argument washes here, do you? Do you really thing these guys are going to take up arms and all this stuff?

Benjamin: Well, certainly there is always a risk when anybody leaves prison here in the US or anywhere around the world that they might commit some violent activity especially in the case of Guantanamo where you've tortured people for 12 years.

I don't know that you are going to leave there thinking the US is a great place. But that is not the point. The point is you just can't hold people.

Either you give them a fair trial, you convict them, you let them do their time and then you still have to release them unless they've been given life in prison or you can't call yourself a civilized society.

People have been fighting now for almost 800 years since the time of Magna Carta to have the right to a fair trial. And I think whether or not there is a problem that somebody might try fight back against the US, keeping them in prison is not the answer.

Robles: You are absolutely right. It is good you mentioned other situations because basically someone who is convicted of some other crime, shoplifting or something, they could have a vendetta against the Judge that sentenced them, right? So that means what? You have to keep that person in prison for life? So also that argument doesn't wash in that regard.

Benjamin: Right. And you look at the rate of recidivism in the US, it is probably 90 something percent, the rate in the case of Guantanamo I think is 9%.

The majority of these prisoners never committed a crime to begin with, the majority of these prisoners just want to get on with their lives. When you read the letters and not just Shaker Aamer’s but anything that gets out of there, basically what they are saying is “Let me be with my family, that is all I want”.

Robles: Is there anything that you've heard coming out of, or going on in, Guantanamo that hasn't been in the media that you think we should know about? Have you heard anything about the conditions they are being kept in or anything else that is going on? The new hunger strike? Is this hunger strike just by Shaker or is this another massive one? What is going on?

Benjamin: I don't think there is a massive hunger strike at this point.

I think there are a couple of dozen prisoners who are on a hunger strike, but again since this information is not available to people anymore. We only know it on an individual basis from lawyers who were able to speak to their individual clients.

What I heard also is that if they say that they are on a hunger strike they are put in separate cells, they are not allowed to be in the communal area and if they are having something like clear liquid and they have some lemon in it then they are being not on a hunger strike anymore.

So, I think the prison is doing everything it can to stop people from doing the hunger strike because that is what woke up the world to the issue of the ongoing indefinite detention. But we should recognize that the hunger strike, while it didn't achieve its goal of getting these prisoners released or giving them fair trials, it did lead to the Obama Administration being shamed enough to appoint new people to the position of envoys in the State Department and the Pentagon, who are in charge of moving this process forward and it did start to get the wheels turning.

So there was some success in the hunger strike and hopefully this year, 2014, we will see a much greater release of prisoners.

Robles: Medea you are close to all of this. What is your view? Are you optimistic that there will be an actual change in policy or something will finally be done or…?

Benjamin: I think it is just disgusting what the Obama Administration has done. This very two-faced way of saying on the one hand “I'm determined to close Guantanamo, I'm going to do something about it, but it is Congress that is creating the big obstacles”.

Well, that isn't really true. Obama could have released these cleared prisoners without getting any OK from Congress, but he pushed Congress and Congress responded. And so there is now a lifting of some of these restrictions that Congress has imposed on the Administration to determine that these people would never engage in any activities against the US.

So Obama has less of an excuse than he had before to keep these prisoners in indefinite detention.

That was the end of part 1of an interview with Medea Benjamin, the co-founder and manager of Code Pink. You can find the following parts on our website at Voice of Russia dot com. Thank you very much for listening and as always I wish all of you all the best wherever you may be

The US mainstream media is not doing its job - Part Two

Download audio file  28 January, 2014 13:13

Obama’s lies on Guantanamo are hurting people worldwide. For the families of the human beings held without trial or charge indefinitely it is an agony to hear Obama promise to close the illegal prison and then get their hopes up only to be dashed again and again. The US corporate/government controlled media is not helping bring an end to the situation and even reports of the hunger strike that continues is not talked about in the US media. According to the founder and director of CodePink Medea Benjamin, most Americans do not even know the illegal prison is still open. In an interview with the Voice of Russia’s John Robles, Ms. Benjamin retells the story of the 12-year-old daughter of Shaker Aamer, who has never seen her father, and who finally was able to talk to him through the Red Cross, only to see he was too weak to even pick up his head because of the ongoing hunger strike. Ms. Benjamin says the lawyers are enraged at Obama but he gets away with whatever he wants because the US mainstream media is complicit in the illegal policies of the Obama Administration.

Benjamin: So Obama has less of an excuse than he had before to keep these prisoners in indefinite detention.

So I think it is a question of will he… (every excuse is starting to be peeled away) … will he really do something about this?

And I think the prisoners are sick and tired of hearing Obama say he is going to close Guantanamo, certainly what they need after all these years now is action, not words.

Robles: Yeah right! Your personal opinion, do you think he is going to do something or..?

Benjamin: I think he does want to start releasing more of these prisoners, I think he has boxed himself in, in the case of the Yemenis, the 56 Yemenis, because he had previously declared self-imposed moratorium on sending people back to Yemen. He lifted that himself.

But he has now shone of spotlight that the Republicans and others can really focus on to say Yemen is unstable, they need a rehabilitation center and it is going to take time to get that running and all kinds of things that will get in the way of a release. So I think that is a situation that he himself created it is going to be difficult to get out of.

But then there are over 20 other prisoners from other countries that could easily be released. We talked about the case of Shaker Aamer, but he is not the only one.

And then there are the countries that said that they would take other prisoners. Kuwait has its own rehabilitation center, Saudi Arabia has its rehabilitation center, there are plenty of places to send people.

So the excuses are quite threadbare at this point. I unfortunately think Obama will not be quick in doing the right thing in the year to come.

Robles: I see. There were demonstrations, I don't know if we discussed this, on the news wires a couple hours ago that there were huge demonstrations in Yemen outside the US embassy. So people there are aware, apparently there was no violence or anything. I guess that was good. And also..

Benjamin: Yes we... I'm sorry.

Robles: Go ahead, please.

Benjamin: We have been in touch with the families in Yemen, in fact we went and visited with some of them in June of last year and heard the agonizing stories of these families and the way that they would get their hopes up when their lawyers would give them news of things like they have been put on a list of cleared for release. But then their hopes have constantly been dashed.

And just like we talked about Shaker Aamer having a child that he has never met, so we met with a 12-year old girl who had never seen her father. She has been born while her father was in prison and she said that her father at that time was on a hunger strike and that he was so weak when he had a chance through the Red Cross to have a video conference with him, he could not even pick up his head.

So we heard these very agonizing stories, we continue to be in touch with the organizations in Yemen that work with these prisoners' families as well as the Human Rights Ministry in Yemen, the Minister herself is very outraged that these prisoners have not been released. And we knew they were having a demonstration today as we were having ours here in Washington DC and there were other demonstrations in the US. So it was good to be in solidarity together.

Robles: That is wonderful. Do you have anything big coming up that we should be looking out for?

Benjamin: Well, we have a lot of things that we are doing as Code Pink we are on our way to Geneva next week when the peace talks around Syria are supposed to happen.

We are there with women that are coming from different parts of the world, mostly from war-torn countries to be calling for a cease-fire and end to all from all sides being sent to the warring parties and to be calling for women to have a voice at the peace table.

We are also planning in March to have a trip to Gaza for International Women's Day, that is March, 8 to have women from different countries around the world saying:' It's time to break the siege of Gaza, the conditions there are so terrible'.

We will continue to do our efforts around the prisoners in Guantanamo as well as people who have been whistleblowers in the US giving support to Chelsea Manning, to Edward Snowden. We are doing work to try to counter the NSA spying. And then Iran and the terrible legislation that Congress is trying to pass in the Senate that would increase the sanctions against Iran just as negotiations that are taking place. So we are trying to stop that from happening. So we have a full plate in a coming month.

Robles: I see. Can I ask you about your Geneva protest?

Benjamin: We really are not doing a protest, we are actually in favor of the peace talks. But we are there to be a voice and a presence, we don't want to take any sides. We are just saying that the fighting is hurting the civilian population, that there is no military solution to this.

This is coming from a position, the reason that Code Pink is going there, is that we were very active in trying to stop the US government from getting involved militarily in Syria. And we felt very proud that we were able to stop our government from doing that, yet on the other hand to see the agony that the Syrian people are going through it doesn't seem enough to say:' We are glad, we didn't get involved militarily'.

We have to do more than that. And I think certainly we want to be calling for more humanitarian aid, for open corridors for that aid to get through. But the main thing is to say, the world has to stand up and say: 'Let's put an end in the fighting'.

Robles: Definitely. I don't know if you are aware, right now, currently as we speak, right now Al Qaeda affiliated groups are battling each other there. I mean, it is complete insanity.

Benjamin: Well, yes. I mean, the level of..I've read that there is over 1,000 armed groups in Syria right now. I mean, this is just insane.

So anybody who thinks that there is a military solution is just not watching how much splintering has gone on and how much suffering for the civilian population, the millions of refugees, the people who are internally displaced.

There has really got to be a cease-fire.

Robles: Really, really. Most of the world I think agrees 100% on that. I want to ask you regarding Guantanamo. Have you seen any movement, or whispers, or anything, amongst the lawyers or anyone regarding a possible boycott of all proceedings at that location?

Benjamin: I'm not close enough to the lawyers to know that. But I can say that there were several lawyers out on the streets with us today in the pouring rain and the cold in Washington DC in front of the White House and then the march that we had and they were just unbelievably angry.

They just could not believe what Obama has been doing, the lies they have been said in terms of things supposedly changing, the violations. And it is very interesting to see these lawyers, some of whom come from prestigious law firms that were very supportive of the Obama Administration, and to see how angry they have become.

One thing we did today which was quite profound is that we had a march that went from the White House to the National Museum of American History. And inside we set up displays of people in orange jumpsuits with hoods over their heads and signs attesting to the violation of the US Constitution.

And at first the security in the museum wanted to arrest people, throw them out and then decided no, that they were going to let this exhibit stand and so for hours we were inside the museum giving all of the visitors not only a visual but an oral discussion of how the US is violating its own constitution.

And yes, President Obama, “the constitutional lawyer” and of course “the Nobel Peace Prize winner” should have a hard time sleeping at night knowing that thanks to him these men remain in indefinite detention in the US GULAG.

Robles: I don't think he does. I mean, when I saw him laughing… laughing it up, at Nelson Mandela's funeral, any humanistic ideas I had about Obama were completely out the window, but anyway...

Benjamin: Politics is dirty and he has gotten down in the dogs and you are right probably he doesn't think very much about it when he goes to bed at night.

Robles: So, Medea, how do you do that? I mean, you put that display up there in the museum and it seems… I’ve got to hand it you sometimes you pull off some things that nobody else can. What is your secret?

Benjamin: Well, this was a coalition of groups led by a group called Witness Against Torture that is namely people from a faith-based background and there were about 60 people who are willing to get arrested in the museum if that was the way things were going to evolve.

But luckily they didn't and I think it was very beautiful to be in there and to be singing and chanting with the message 'Make Guantanamo history', so in the Museum of American History to be saying: 'Let's not just look at these rooms full of, depictions of the US Revolutionary War, the Civil War, other things throughout the history. Let's look at what we are doing right now. And how this is going to go down in history as such a shameful mark on the US.

Robles: They will have to open up an exhibit 'The Hall of Shame' or something..

Benjamin: That is right, but I don't think it is going to happen because even in the exhibit that I poked into today looking at the depiction of the War in Vietnam, it was not a very clear one talking about the use of Agent Orange, the killing of 2 million Vietnamese, the reall shame of that war.

So there is a lot of our history that is hidden from the American public.

Robles: I see. Medea, have you had… (I just want to ask you one last question if I could and anything you would like to say, please go ahead) …have you had any experience with media being more inaccessible than say it was a year ago in the US?

Have you seen anything like that going on? I mean stricter control on the media, more people being, basically shut up.

Benjamin: Are you talking about in relationship to Guantanamo?

Robles: In general, with the Snowden revelations, with Guantanamo, with government secrecy. I mean, are they winning are they losing? Are things getting out the way they were a year ago? What is the situation with media access, etc?

Benjamin: I really can’t answer that what I can say is from my own experience, in that, a lot of the times that we have had actions like the one we had today we used to get mainstream media that would cover them. We used to have CNN there, MSNBC would come there and these days we don't get any mainstream US media.

The media that we get is Russia Today, maybe we would get Al Jazeera, maybe we would get TV from Europe, from Japan, but the US media tends to ignore what the activists are doing, tends to ignore a lot of these key issues that are so damming of US foreign policy.

So unfortunately I think we have a media that is obviously under corporate control and has also been cutting back on the funding of reporters and so we have fewer and fewer reporters especially on weekends.

And it means that there is not a lot of information through the mainstream channels that can educate the American people and just to circle back to the issue of Guantanamo I would think that if there would be a poll done that most Americans wouldn't even know that we still have people in Guantanamo. They probably think everybody there was let go, it has been shut down or if they thought that anybody was left it is because they have been tried and convicted and happened to be the worst of the worst which is not true at all.

So, unfortunately I think that a lot of the reasons that the Administration can get away with policies like this is because the US mainstream media has not been doing its job.

Robles: Oh boy. And that is a problem, that is not going to be corrected any time soon as far as I know. What do you think?

Benjamin: No but thank goodness we do have alternative kinds of media from other countries and people who are anxious to get information from other sources, at least have that opportunity.

So let's hope more and more people start searching for that and it perhaps will even shame the mainstream media to start covering more of these things.

Robles: Yeah, sure, right. Let's hope they don't take the Internet away from us. What do you think?

Benjamin: Yeah, I think we have a huge movement on our hands to try to stop that from happening but it is very scary to see not only the NSA spying but in general the government and corporate control of more and more of our lives.

But thank you for the work that you are doing and for this interview and I'm actually optimistic that in 2014 we can fight back against these policies and take back some of the freedoms that we've lost in the past years.

Robles: I hope so. I've gotten some rumblings that big changes are coming up, hopefully they will be for the best.

Listen, you're going to be in Geneva, I'm sorry, what date?

Benjamin: We are going to be there from January 20 to January 24.

Robles: If people want to support you or take part or learn more about your activities where should they go?

Benjamin: They should go to our website which is codepink.org and the summit that we are having the Women’s Summit the day before the official talks start, we will be live-streaming and you can find all that information on our website.

Robles: Of course this is not only for women, you welcome men into your activities, right?

Benjamin: We welcome men into all of our activities, the summit I'm talking about is a summit for women to speak but everybody is invited to be part of it.

Robles: Ok, I'm just making sure so nobody is scared off or anything. One more time, that will be January..

Benjamin: January 20 – January 24.

Robles: January 20 – January 24 and one more time for the listeners your website..

Benjamin: Codepink.org .

Robles: Ok. Thank you very much, I appreciate it.

Benjamin: Ok, bye-bye.

Robles: Bye-bye, take care.

This is the final installment of an interview with Medea Benjamin, the co-founder and manager of Code Pink

PART1 ‘Majority of Americans think people in Guantanamo are worst of the worst’

21 May, 12:33  Download audio file

тюрьма Гуантанамо узник заключение военная база сша

Medea Benjamin, the co-founder and manager of CodePink, spoke  about the ongoing hunger strike by over a hundred inmates at the extra-judicial American prison at Guantanamo Bay Cuba and the reasons why indefinite detention is possible in freedom-loving America. According to Ms. Benjamin, the myth stigmatizing Guantanamo inmates in the eyes of Americans as "the worst of the worst" means further injustice for its prisoners, the majority of whom are being held without charge or trial.

Robles: The hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay, it’s over 100 days since it has taken a massive form. Do you think this will result in any change of policy by the US government?

Benjamin:I think it has to result in a change of policy because it’s a real crisis that has forced President Obama to address this issue again. There are 102 men, as we have heard through the lawyers, that are on hunger strike out of 166 still in Guantanamo, thirty of them being force-fed, which just can’t continue.

Somebody will die, that will be a major crisis with reactions all around the globe. So, I think this is going to force the president to do something.

Robles: As far as force-feeding, they are being force-fed in such horrible conditions that I would say it amounts to torture. The tubes through the noses, they are put in some sort of special ‘dry-rooms’ so they can’t throw up. What do you think about that, about the force-feeding?

Benjamin: Well, it’s not just you who says this amounts to torture. It’s the American Medical Association and all over the country there are experts who say that this is a form of torture and it’s unethical and that it should be stopped.

Of course, way to stop it is to meet the demands for justice for the prisoners, and that is something that so far the Administration has been opposed to doing. But they can’t continue, with the condemnation they are receiving around the world, to strap these prisoners in chairs, to stuff tubes down their nose and their throat into their stomach, to have them like that for two hours every day. I mean, it’s just untenable.

Robles: So, are Americans upset? I mean, as much as… The world’s in shock, I mean, what’s the reaction from Americans? Are these guys still the worst of the worst and evil Muslims that should die, or, I mean, what’s the view, overall?

Benjamin:Unfortunately, the majority of Americans still do think that the people in Guantanamo are the worst of the worst, even though of 166, 86 of them have been cleared by the US government, meaning the government says they pose no threat and in most cases have been innocent of any crime.

So, that has not been portrayed to the American people. Certainly, the tragic stories of individuals have rarely been in the US media. And so, I think it perpetuates this myth among Americans that, as Dick Cheney said in the last administration, “these are the worst of the worst”, and he said that at a time when there were 800 prisoners.

Over 600 of them have been released, so they couldn’t have been the worst of the worst. But there are still, unfortunately, the 166 left, for the most part have not been charged and have not been tried and certainly have not been found guilty of any crime.

Robles: So, we are talking down from 800 to about 80 who may have been guilty of something that still have not been tried and have not gone to court or been charged with anything, basically.

Benjamin: Right. Only a handful of them have been charged. And we see that with the rest of them, the ones who have been cleared, there are countries that they are from that have said: “We can take them. We can handle these people, just send them back!”

One of them is Shaker Aamer, a citizen of the U.K. and the U.K. is certainly capable of taking back prisoners who have been cleared for release. In fact, the U.K. has taken back many prisoners already and not had problems, but the U.S. will not release Shaker Aamer.

And then there are 57 of the 86 cleared are from Yemen. Yemen is a country whose government is an ally of the United States. The Human Rights Minister of Yemen has been to the United States and said, "We want these people back. We can handle them," and has not gotten a response from U.S. government.

Robles: So they've said they will take them back, they want them back and the U.S. still will not release them?

Benjamin: There is pretty much unanimous opinion inside Yemen that they want these prisoners to come back and they have been writing memorandum of understanding to be signed with the U.S. government to release these prisoners.

The Human Rights Minister could not get a high-level meeting at the White House and after a day in the U.S. turned around and went home very upset that she had not been taken seriously.

So the U.S. is upsetting a major ally, Yemen, an ally it depends on for its counterterrorism policy including the drone strikes, which the government of Yemen has approved of. So it is causing a major riff.

Robles: Why do you think they will not release these people? And if you could: does this tie in to plans for a new prison facility in Guantanamo? Do you think that ties in there? Or why do you think they won't release these people?

Benjamin: It seems that it's an issue of politics that the democratic administration fears that if there is one prisoner who is released who goes back into the struggle, that will be used against the entire Democratic Party to say that they are soft on defense, that they can't be trusted. This is all very fierce partisan politics right now and it has nothing to do with the human rights of the prisoners, unfortunately.

Now the president says that he cannot release these prisoners because the Congress, which is dominated by Republicans, has put restrictions on him. And that is true. There are more restrictions now than there were under the Bush administration. But it doesn't mean that the president can't make change. In fact, he could release all of the cleared prisoners, he could push forward the trial for the others and he could even close Guantanamo. But he would have to extend political capital that he has not been willing to extend.

Robles: Why do you think that is? I mean this is his last term, I was kind of “cautiously hoping” that maybe after he won the second term, that maybe he would actually do something then. And are those political concerns from Republicans? I mean is that worse than people who are, rightfully I think, accusing him of just being a Republican and Democratic clothing?

Benjamin: Unfortunately, the president so far has not seen enough push from the human rights and the peace and other communities to make it worth his while. Now I think this is changing and we might hear something in the speech that he is scheduled to give on Thursday.

Last week we handed in petitions that were signed by 300,000 U.S. citizens calling for him to provide some form of justice to the prisoners in Guantanamo.

There were 13 people arrested in front of the White House. There are people in the U.S., including a co-founder of my organization Code Pink, who are on an indefinite hunger strike in solidarity with the prisoners. One of the people, Dianne Wilson, is on her nineteenth day of a hunger strike with water only.

So there is mounting pressure on the president and that includes pressure coming from overseas. So we have to see if that pressure will be enough for him to feel that it is worth his political capital to do the right thing by these prisoners in Guantanamo.

End of part 1

PART2 Obama blaming Congress for Guantanamo is ridiculous

24 May, 20:29  Download audio file

After interrupting U.S. President Barack Obama’s recent speech on Guantanamo in which Obama expressed a desire to close the Guantanamo prison and allow for the transfer of prisoners to Yemen the co-founder of CodePink spoke to us on the event and on whether she thinks Obama is sincere in a desire to close Guantanamo. She said it is ridiculous that Obama is attempting to blame the U.S. Congress when he can close Guantanamo himself if he really desires to do so.

Hello! This is John Robles, I'm speaking with Medea Benjamin the co-founder and manager of CODEPINK.

Robles: Hello Medea! How are you?

Benjamin: Good, thank you.

Robles: We just got the news about this speech by Obama and he actually commented on your comments to him. What’s your opinion, will he actually change policy and what happened there?

Benjamin: Well, I think he is being forced by the protests that are happening around the world to start shifting policy, but it is not nearly enough. And many of us thought that there would be a lot more specifics to his announcements today.

We thought he was going to say that he was going to take the drones away from the CIA and have it only be in the hands of the military, that he was going to stop the authorization for signature strikes where people are killed just on the basis of suspicious activities.

We thought he was going to say he would use his power as Commander-in-Chief to release the 86 innocent prisoners in Guantanamo who have been there for 11 years and are desperate.

Yet, what he said was really more of a justification for US policy, than major changes.

Robles: I see. We have reports that he said that he was is going to allow for prisoner transfers to Yemen, we just talked about it the other day, and possibly transferring some of the inmates to American high security prisons. Were those sincere claims? Is that something real?

Benjamin: Yes, I think those are the positive things that he’ll lifted the ban on prisoners going to Yemen. But let’s see how long it takes for those 57 Yemenis who have been cleared to actually leave.

It could take months, it could take years. He has been very hesitant to use his power to say: “I’m calling for them to be released immediately or within the next month.” I think he is going to release them slowly, one at a time. And I think it is going to be a torturous process for the people who are on hunger strike waiting to be reunited with their families.

Robles: Obama said… You interrupted his speech three times, Is that correct?

Benjamin: Yes.

Robles: And he said he was willing to cut you some slack because it was worth being passionate about. Was he being serious or was he sincere with that? Or do you think he was just poking fun?

Benjamin: I think he was being serious, the fact that I wasn’t arrested attests to that and I’m very grateful for that.

Robles: That was my next question. Were you escorted out or anything? I mean did they allow you to continue?

Benjamin: I was taken for questioning by the FBI and by the Secret Service and asked about my motivations. And I think they understood who I am and why I was doing this and then lets me go.

Robles: They didn’t do anything terrible to you or anything?

Benjamin: No.

Robles: You have no complaints?

Benjamin: I have complaints about the policies and all the innocent people being killed. And I have complaints about people being held indefinitely. But not complaints about today, no.

Robles: Okay. I’m just wondering if you were abused or anything happened to you.

Benjamin: No, not at all and I’m very thankful for that.

Robles: What about the hunger strikes? Did he mention anything about the hunger strikes and are they going to do anything? Are they going to stop force-feeding people?

Benjamin: No, he didn’t mention whether he is going to stop force-feeding people.

Robles: What about the other topics to the speech, droning and everything else?

Benjamin: Well, there have already been changes in the sense that they have stopped using as many drone strikes, and that’s a positive thing. That means less people are getting killed. But he did not say that he is going to reign in the drones, that he is going to make sure that we uphold international law.

It is really still in his purview as the executive branch. He didn’t say; “I’m going to make these policies open to the American public.”

So, I think for us, for public, it is still a very secret policy. And I think that, unfortunately, too many innocent people are still going to be killed.

Robles: Shouldn’t American taxpayers be allowed to vote on this stuff, I mean it’s their millions of dollars of tax money that’s being spent on all this stuff?

Benjamin: Yes, they should be able to have a say in this and so far they haven’t.

Robles: He called on Congress not to block efforts to shut down the prison, but he can close it himself. So, what was that about?

Benjamin: Right! I think it is ridiculous that he keeps blaming Congress when he is the Commander-in-Chief. He has the power to wage war and he certainly has the power to close a prison.

Robles: Do you have any plans coming up in the near future? Anything else, any concrete plans what are you going to continue doing to fight for justice at Guantanamo?

Benjamin: We are going to continue the hunger strikes that people have been engaged in. We are going to take a group to the Cuban side of Guantanamo. We are going to take a group to Yemen to meet with the families there. And we will continue to pressure the President in every way we can.

Robles: Okay, I see. Medea, thank you very much.

Benjamin: Thanks so much for having me on!

For Obama Guantanamo is all about politics

24 May, 06:50  Download audio file

Медея Бенджамин Медея Бенжамин

Pressure on U.S. President Barack Obama, both from within the U.S. and internationally is mounting to close the extra-judicial prison at Guantanamo Bay Cuba as over 100 prisoners are currently engaged in a massive hunger strike. Medea Benjamin spoke to the Voice of Russia and gave her opinions and views on this issue and more in an exclusive interview.

Hello! This is John Robles, I’m speaking with Medea Benjamin – the co-founder and manager of CODEPINK. This is an interview in progress.

Benjamin: There is mounting pressure on the President, and that includes pressure coming from overseas. So, we have to see if that pressure will be enough for him to feel that it is worth his political capital to do the right thing by these prisoners in Guantanamo.

Robles: But just doing the right thing, he is not interested in that, it’s all politics?

Benjamin: This is all politics, unfortunately. There have been reports saying that President Obama quote “feels badly”. And he felt badly when he heard reports that the real reason that the hunger strike began in February was not so much because of the ways that the prison guards were treating the Koran and other changes that had taken place, that were making life tougher for the prisoners; it was that the prisoners perceived that President Obama had abandoned them, that he had talked about closing Guantanamo but never did it, that he hadn’t talked about Guantanamo in a State of the Union speech since 2009 and they really felt abandoned.

And so, some reporters have said that this made President Obama feel badly and this is why he wants to reopen the issue of Guantanamo. But I don’t know if I would put a lot of weight on the President feeling guilty about men who have been imprisoned unjustly for the last 11 years. He could have done something when he came into power immediately five years ago.

Robles: I am sorry but that sounds ridiculous to me, I mean these guys have been in there for 10 or 12 years. I think he is pretty egotistical thinking that the hunger strike just started because they thought Obama abandoned them.... It doesn’t matter they were there for 12 years without trial locked up like animals.

Benjamin: Of course, and there have been periodic hunger strikes before. But this one is involving a majority of the prisoners and it is going on for a long time. So, this one is different. And I think this one is just forcing change on a President who has indeed abandoned these people since he campaigned on the platform of closing Guantanamo and then never did anything when he had the entire congressional being controlled by the Democrats and could have easily done something when he first came in.

Robles: His peace prize, his droning, I don’t think there is too much I can say very good about him but… What do you think? He is going to make this speech, he is going to unveil his new Guantanamo, drone policies, anti-terrorism policies. Do you think there will be any changes?

Benjamin: I think that he will just try to justify a policy that has been killing a lot of innocent people and has been creating havoc internationally. And he will try to say that this is indeed a legal policy, and explain his reasons why he thinks this is not only legal but in the national interests of the United States. And I think there will be a lot of rhetoric to justify a program that contravenes international law, and I would even say the U.S. constitution.

And as far as Guantanamo, I don’t know if he will announce anything new. He might announce that he is appointing somebody in the White House to be in charge of trying to transfer the cleared detainees. And that would be a positive move. That would be at least something because there had been that position that has been abandoned as of January of this year. So, filling that position would at least mark some kind of movement forward, probably not nearly enough to stop the hunger strike but better than nothing.

Well, it is kind of window dressing I think at this point. How many people do think it will take to actually die, if it is possible to die there they are being force-fed, but I mean these men, they don’t want to live anymore. How many would have to die before Obama actually did something?

Benjamin: I think one because I think if and when one prisoner dies, because the attention of the world’s on this issue, even more so outside of the United States than inside of the United States, this will spark a terrible reaction within the Muslim community and it will be politically unsustainable for the U.S. and Obama will have to do something. But I hope it doesn’t come down to that and he feels the pressure and does something or announces something on Thursday.

Robles: I don’t think it’s just the Muslim world because Muslims for most Americans: if you are a Muslim, you don’t deserve to live anyway. They do not really care what’s happening to them down there.

Benjamin: But it’s been the Muslim community and other countries, Muslim countries where people have protested in large numbers at the US embassies and this would certainly happen again if one of the prisoners were to die.

Robles: So, you think mass civil unrest and mass damage, that’s the only thing that would move Obama?

Benjamin: No, I think that perhaps what is already happening is going to move Obama. I think that there might be just enough pressure being put on him from the grassroots and from allied countries, like the UK, like Saudi Arabia, like Jordan, Yemen that will force some kind of change. So, I’m anticipating something being announced on Thursday that might lead us to some of the prisoners starting to be released. There have been no prisoners released in the last two years. So, anything that would start moving some of them out of there would be a tremendous sign of a change in policy.

Robles: I see. Most of the world doesn’t really believe in Obama any more, I mean all we see, and most of the world sees, is just a horrible act after a horrible act from the droning, from Guantanamo, from the invasions. Most of the world sees bloodshed and destruction. So, I don’t think there are very many people in the world who are very optimistic he will do something but if you think that there might be a positive change, I hope so.

Benjamin: You know, I think leaders of countries are forced to change when the risk of continuing the policy is greater than the risk of changing the policy. And I think that’s the point where we are now, certainly in terms of Guantanamo. And in terms of the drones, there’s been tremendous pressure on that front as well. The Obama Administration got away for four years with killing people in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and certainly in Afghanistan without much of a response. And now that has changed.

And so, I think we’ve seen less drone strikes in Pakistan, for example, once the focus of attention and the media woke up and started talking about it. And so, I think that the policy is beginning to change. The President is talking about taking drones out of the hands of the CIA, which is a positive step, but it is not enough. So, I think we might hear some announcements of policy changes like that.

Robles: That would be good if it actually changes anything, I mean you can pass them from the CIA, to the NSA, or to the military intelligence, but it is still just a cold-blooded killing tool. But the number of drone strikes and the number of massive, as they say, collateral casualties, has dropped in the last couple of years. So, maybe that’s something positive.

Benjamin: Yes. On the other hand, there was another drone strike on Saturday in Yemen. And the drone strikes in Yemen are antagonizing the population, turning them against the United States becoming a recruitment tool, and they have been a recruitment tool for extremists. So, the policy, while it has lowered the number of drone strikes in Pakistan, it has been increasing them in Yemen.

Robles: It was kind of funny for me that in the US media all of a sudden there is this AP scandal and this Tea Party scandal, and everything else right when this Guantanamo stuff was starting to come out in the media again, and then this was just kind of brushed it aside. Do you think it was timed in any way?

Benjamin: No, I think it’s just the way things happen and I don’t think there was any scheme in terms of timing.

Robles: Okay. Recently Islamists were calling for Muslims the world over to come up with the drone countermeasures and technology to fight drones. Can you comment on that or have you heard anything about that?

Benjamin: There are drones that are in the hands of not only Muslim countries but are also in the hands of non-state entities. Iran has furnished Hezbollah with drones. That have actually been shot down over Israel. These are not weaponized drones, these are surveillence drones at this point. But there are many countries and non-state actors that are in the process of trying to acquire the same types of technology that the U.S. has.

So, certainly there is a proliferation and an arms race in the drones right now and the U.S. is now coming out with ways to bring down other drones with lasers, as well as shooting them down. And so, there is a full-fledged race to not only try to get up to the U.S. level of technology with these drones but the U.S. is constantly trying to come out with new versions of the drones that would be harder to shoot down.

Robles: Medea, anything you want to finish up with? I know I’ve taken up a lot of your time.

Benjamin: No, I think we’ve covered it pretty well and thank you so much for having me on.

Robles: Okay, I really appreciate it. Where are you headed?

Benjamin: Going back home but we will have to get ready and mobilize for Obama’s talk on Thursday.

Robles: Are you guys planning anything big or what?

Benjamin: Sure, I mean I wouldn’t call it big because we just found out about it today and we don’t have much time to mobilize, and it is a weekday. But we will certainly mobilize whoever we can and bring our model drone out there and try to make sure that there is a voice of opposition there.

Robles: Well, let’s try to make it big.

Benjamin: Thanks, we will.

How Did They Allow CIA to Become Death Squad? Medea Benjamin

7 February, 16:43  Download audio file

CodePink director and co-founder Medea Benjamin spoke with VoR about the recently exposed US Justice Department white paper rationalizing and making legal the execution of Americans. She talks about the illegality of drone assassinations, recounts her recent trip to Pakistan, where CodePink peace activists apologized to the Pakistani people, who she says were more than a little shocked to hear Americans saying "Your lives and your children are worth as much as ours." CodePink is one of the most active and most publicly heard peace groups which has been protesting the illegal use of drones and the assassination machine that the US Executive Branch and the CIA have become.

Hello! This is John Robles, I’m speaking with Medea Benjamin. She is the co-founder and director of the peace group Code Pink in the US.

Robles: Hello Medea! How are you?

Benjamin: I’m doing fine, thank you very much.

Robles: It’s a pleasure to be speaking with you again. Thanks for agreeing to speak with us. You’ve read the white paper authorizing the assassination of US citizens. The document starts out stating: US citizens who are “senior operational leaders in Al Qaeda”. How many people like that do you know of in the world?

Benjamin: I don’t know any people like that in the world. I do know that of the thousands of people that have been killed by drones only 2% of them are seen to be high target people. So, it is very confusing to know what the Government means when they say “high target people” and who is to determine that. And especially, since the whole program is secret, I don’t think that we can rely on our Government to have the right intelligence to know who is a high target that deserves to be killed without any kind of possibility of being captured or having a chance to a trial.

Robles: Right! The language at the beginning says the high level operational leaders or senior leaders of Al Qaeda who are US citizens. I think that’s a way to get this in the door and then they can expand it to include anyone they want. Would you agree with that?

Benjamin: That’s the view of this, that if we allow this kind of legal underpinning that is so open-ended and we allow Government officials to define it in secret, then we are opening a door to anybody being labeled that.

Robles: “To be an informed high level official”: Who makes that determination? Who would that be?

Benjamin: Well, certainly we know now that on “Terror Tuesdays” President Obama meets with his counterterrorism chief John Brennan and other members of the national security team and make these kinds of decisions, and they’ve been doing this for years already. And so, really, we are leaving this either to a president or to people that have not been elected by the American public.

And certainly, even the people in Congress who are supposed to have knowledge of this, people who are on the Intelligence Committee and supposed to be doing the oversight, certainly have not had access to this information. So, it is an unprecedented power grab by the Executive Branch.

Robles: I would say a high level official would be, maybe, anyone from the Attorney General to the Secretary of State. Would you agree with that?

Benjamin: It could even be lower than that, I mean it could be a Deputy Cabinet Minister. Who knows? It is not defined.

Robles: So, basically this white paper gives anyone with that classification the right to order the assassination of anyone. Well, as long as they are a, quote: “a senior operational Al Qaeda or associate” or something. They can classify anyone as being associated, even if it is just someone who maybe sells, or sold Osama Bin Laden a hotdog.

Benjamin: Remember that all of this is secret. So, even if the definitions were clear, even if we felt that they had narrowed it down more, it is all done in secret which means that we never know who is doing the deciding. And I think the underpinnings of the whole thing are so undemocratic.

Reminder

Robles: Do you think this is a way to retroactively legalize what they have been doing for years already?

Benjamin: The Government says that it has been doing this killing based on legal memos that the Department of Justice had put out before the killing of Americans in September 2011, under the Obama administration. But this document has still not been released.

So, the fact that it exists is meant to give them a legal cover, but the fact that this legal cover is hidden, even from the people in the Intelligence Committee, who are supposed to be doing the oversight leaves it in this Orwellian kind of catch-22 that we have to speculate. Even with this white paper, it isn’t the 40 page legal memo that exists that not only should the Intelligence Committee and other people in Congress have the right to see, but the American people should have the right to see it.

Robles: Of course! You’ve been active in drones. A couple of months ago you were in Pakistan…

Benjamin: We took a group of 34 people to Pakistan to protest the drone strikes and tell the people of Pakistan that we were disgusted by our Government’s policies, that we apologize for the deaths of so many innocent people and for the lawlessness of our Government. And it was quite amazing because we went up to the tribal areas, we talked to victims of the drone strikes and their family members and it was the first time that they had any positive interaction with Americans: Americans who are saying that your lives are as valuable as ours, your children are as valuable as ours. And we were well received and on the major news every day because it was so unusual.

Robles: Back to this white paper, not much of a reaction from the US populace. Why does it seem that Americans aren’t very concerned about this?

Benjamin: I think the big thing is that the American people didn’t know much about it until this last year. And really, just these last months there hasn’t been very much in the media. And the only thing the American people have been told is that this is a positive alternative to US troops on the ground that is expensive and that puts our soldiers’ lives in jeopardy. And so when they see it in those terms and they hear that it is so precise and it doesn’t kill innocent people, they have a false image of the drones.

So, I think it is important that we educate people as to the numbers of innocent people who are killed, the illegal nature of these drones, the ethical and moral issues that come into play when you are killing from an air-conditioned room in an air force base in the US, killing people thousands of miles away, that you have no understanding of who they are and how they behave.

And then finally to understand the dangerous precedent that is being set with so many other nations now getting a hold of drones and what kind of chaos and lawlessness we are setting up by our example.

Robles: The due process clause. Normally, even if they find that you are eligible for execution, I mean normally, shouldn’t a person have the right to defend themselves? And this white paper actually negates that right.

Benjamin: I think Americans should be shocked when they hear that our Government now says that we don’t have the right to a judicial process. The due process is something so vague that it can mean that the President and his aides sit in a room in the White House on “Terror Tuesdays” and put your name on a “kill list”.

Robles: Anything you want to finish up with? It’s all yours.

Benjamin: I’m excited that there is more awareness and that we have been building a protest movement at the bases where the drones have been operated. And we will be very vocal at the hearing tomorrow with John Brennan. We know there are questions that our senators won’t ask him, that we will ask, and we also have questions for our senators as well, as to how they let this get to this point and how they allowed the CIA that is supposed to be an intelligence-gathering organization to become a death squad.

Illegal CIA Torture Prison at Guantanamo Bay Cuba

http://www.jar2.com/Topics/Guantanamo.html

 

Last Update: 08/11/2017 21:30 +0300

 

Site 1JAR2 Blog Button

 

JAR2 Biz

 

 Link to JAR2 YouTube Account  Link to JAR2 Blogger Account  Link to JAR2 Live Journal Account  Link to JAR2 Word Press Account    Link to JAR2 Sonation and Support Page

 

  Please help keep us going and make a donation Thanks to all supporters!

PayPal, Yandex, Qiwi, Сбербанк Sberbank Visa 4276 3800 4543 8756

Copyright JAR2 2003-2017 All Rights Reserved

Publishing Banned Truth Since June 06, 2003