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2013-02-08

CODEPINK Repeatedly Disrupts Brennan Hearing Calling Out Names of Civilians Killed in Drone Strikes

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Thursday’s confirmation hearing for CIA nominee John Brennan was briefly postponed to clear the room of activists from CODEPINK after they repeatedly disrupted Brennan’s testimony. One woman held a list of Pakistani children killed in U.S. drone strikes. Former U.S. diplomat Col. Ann Wright interrupted Brennan while wearing a sign around her neck with the name of Tariq Aziz, a 16-year-old Pakistani boy who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in 2011. Wright and seven others were arrested. We speak to CODEPINK founder Medea Benjamin, who also disrupted the meeting and recently visited Pakistan to speak with victims of drone strikes. "It’s not only the killing, it’s the terrorizing of entire populations, where they hear the drones buzzing overhead 24 hours a day, where they’re afraid to go to school, afraid to go to the markets, to funerals, to weddings, where it disrupts entire communities," Benjamin says. "And we are trying to get this information to our elected officials, to say, 'You are making us unsafe here at home,' to say nothing of how illegal, immoral and inhumane these policies are." [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We’re continuing to talk about Thursday’s Senate confirmation hearing for John Brennan to head the CIA. I want to turn back to the CODEPINK members in the audience who interrupted the hearing multiple times. At the outset of Brennan’s testimony, some of the activists began standing up one by one to voice their dissent, much to the frustration of the Senate Intelligence Committee chair, Dianne Feinstein.

JOHN BRENNAN: And I’m very pleased to be joined today by my wife Kathy and brother Tom.

CODEPINK PROTESTER: Speaking of children, I speak for the mothers who lost children—

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: All right, we will stop again.

CODEPINK PROTESTER: —in your drone strikes in Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia. And who else? Who else? Where else?

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: Please remove the—

CODEPINK PROTESTER: The CIA and the Obama administration refuse to even tell Congress. They won’t even tell Congress what countries we are killing children in.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: Please—

CODEPINK PROTESTER: Senator Feinstein—

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: If you could please expedite the removal?

CODEPINK PROTESTER: —are your children more important than the children of Pakistan and Yemen? Are they more important? Do your job! World peace depends on it! We’re making more enemies—

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: Please proceed, Mr. Brennan. The next time, we’re going to clear the chamber and bring people back in one by one. This witness is entitled to be heard, ladies and gentlemen. So please give him that opportunity.

JOHN BRENNAN: Thank you. A heartfelt thank you also goes to my family in New Jersey, especially my 91-year-old mother Dorothy, my 92-year-old father Owen, who emigrated from Ireland nearly 65 years ago.

JOANNE LINGLE: 178 children killed by drones in Pakistan. And Mr. Brennan, if you don’t know who they are, I have a list. I have a list with all the names and the ages.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: All right, I’m going to—we’re going to halt the hearing. I’m going to ask that the room be cleared and that the CODEPINK associates not be permitted to come back in. Done this five times now, and five times are enough.

AMY GOODMAN: And that’s just what they did: cleared the hall. Eight CODEPINK activists were arrested. That’s an excerpt from the outset of Tuesday’s Senate confirmation hearing for John Brennan to head the CIA.

We’re joined now by one of the protesters who was in the confirmation hearing, but—she was there to interrupt him, before Capitol police removed her and dozens of others, Medea Benjamin, founder of CODEPINK, author of Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control.

Medea , can you talk about going to Pakistan protesting drones, then coming back and knocking on the door of John Brennan’s house?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, we took a group of 34 Americans to Pakistan, where we had a chance to meet with drone victims, and came back just so appalled by our policies that I said, "Well, you know, how are we going to speak to the officials?" John Brennan in the hearing yesterday said that they are open to talking to the American public, but we’ve tried every way possible to speak to people in the CIA, people in the Obama administration, even people in the State Department, where we’ve gotten meetings and they won’t talk. They say, "It’s a covert program; we can’t talk about it." So I decided just to try to do a simple Google search and find where he lived, which I did, and went there. I should correct you: I wasn’t invited in the house; we had a discussion from his doorway.

But I talked about—we had just come back from Pakistan, and we had met with people who had lost their loved ones, and could he tell us how this happened, and can there be a reckoning, an apology, an acknowledgment? And it’s quite interesting. I think one of the most important segments that came out yesterday is John Brennan saying that he thought that, yes, if there had been killings by mistake, there should be an acknowledgment of that. So, we are still waiting for acknowledgment. In fact, you saw one of the women that stood up with a long list. JoAnne Lingle drove in from Indianapolis yesterday with that list of 176 children and said, "I’ll be happy to give this to you." He keeps saying that there are so few civilian casualties; it’s just a lie.

AMY GOODMAN: What did John Brennan say when you were standing on the doorstep of his house? What exactly was the conversation?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: He said that we were being manipulated in Pakistan. And I said, "Then let’s just take three cases. Can you get back to me with information about the case of Tariq Aziz, a 16-year-old killed, about the brother and the son of Karim Khan, a journalist whose family members were killed? Just take those three cases, and can you find out what happened to them?" because he said he didn’t know about it. And he took my card, and he said, "Oh, yeah, we’ll get back to you." Of course, we never heard anything back.

In the meantime, we think it is important to get responses from particular cases, and we plan to go to Dianne Feinstein’s office today and say, "What happened to those cases, as well as Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, the 16-year-old from Yemen? We would like to know. Were they killed on purpose? Were they high-level al-Qaeda operatives, these 16-year-olds? Or were they killed by mistake? And if so, we want an acknowledgment from our government."

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Medea, one of the banners that your group held up yesterday was: "John Brennan is a national security risk." And specifically, you were referring to this base in Saudi Arabia. Could you talk about that a little bit?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Yes. I wrote about this in my book, Drone Warfare, where George Bush—one of the reasons Osama bin Laden said we were attacked on 9/11 is having bases in Saudi Arabia. George Bush quietly closed those bases, and now we have, under Barack Obama, in fact under the leadership of John Brennan, who was stationed in Saudi Arabia, a renegotiating opening up of a U.S. base there for drones. Imagine the kind of blowback that we are going to get from having another base in the holy land in Saudi Arabia. So this is a national security risk to the United States, and the person that we can identify with that risk is John Brennan. Of course, let’s not forget the role of Barack Obama.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, what about that, Medea Benjamin, the role of President Obama? Because, I mean, this is a hearing for the director of Central Intelligence, but Barack Obama has taken direct responsibility for running the kill list from the Oval Office.

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Right. We say that this is a policy of the Obama administration. This kill list happens in "Terror Tuesday" meetings in the White House. This is something that we have to recognize is not coming from another political party; it’s coming from the Democratic Party, with the complicity of the Republicans. It’s also the complicity of the entire Senate Intelligence Committee, that has not been doing its job, that has allowed the CIA to become a death squad, which is what it is today.

And we have been organizing, mobilizing; we put out a letter by a hundred religious leaders, sent it to the White House, took it to the Intelligence Committee members; we have been organizing people within the military; we’ve been getting letters from Yemen and from Pakistan—to say: These policies put us at risk; these are counterproductive. We even have somebody like General McChrystal coming out and saying we don’t understand the visceral hatred coming against the United States because of these drone strikes. We also took copies of Living Under Terror — Under Drones, done by NYU and Stanford Law School, that explains it’s not only the killing, it’s the terrorizing of entire populations, where they hear the drones buzzing overhead 24 hours a day, where they’re afraid to go to school, afraid to go to the markets, to funerals, to weddings, where it disrupts entire communities. And we are trying to get this information to our elected officials, to say, "You are making us unsafe here at home," to say nothing of how illegal, immoral and inhumane these policies are.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And CODEPINK has even now taken the unusual step of hiring a lobbyist to try to write legislation around—around this drone warfare?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Yes, we have. We’ve hired a lobbyist who understands the left and the right in the Congress and trying to pull together people from both sides, who are maybe less afraid to criticize President Obama, to come together to try to put some regulations into this out-of-control use of drones by both the CIA and by the military. But one important thing is to say that the CIA should have absolutely no drones. Lethal drones should not be in the hands of a civilian organization like the CIA.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn back to the hearing, Democratic Senator Ron Wyden asking John Brennan to reveal details about where the CIA has carried out lethal covert actions.

SEN. RON WYDEN: In my letter to you three weeks ago, I noted that I’ve been asking for over a year to receive the names of any and all countries where the intelligence community has used its lethal authorities. If confirmed, would you provide the full list of countries to the members of this committee and our current staff?

JOHN BRENNAN: I know that this is an outstanding request on your part. During our courtesy call, we discussed it. If I were to be confirmed as director of CIA, I would get back to you, and it would be my intention to do everything possible to meet this committee’s legitimate interests and requests.

AMY GOODMAN: John Brennan responding to Democratic Senator Ron Wyden, the leader of the questioning around drone warfare. Medea Benjamin?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, it’s just astounding. This is the Intelligence Oversight Committee. This is the committee that’s supposed to provide the checks and balances to the executive branch. And to say that a senior member of the Intelligence Committee has not been able to get a list of the countries where we are killing people is just beyond belief. I mean, how can we call ourselves a democracy? This is crazy.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to end with the words of someone who wasn’t in the hearing yesterday—the protesters in the hearing asking questions, carrying the names of those killed in drone strikes. This is Anwar al-Awlaki’s father, Nasser al-Awlaki, who was speaking recently about the U.S. drone strike that killed his 16-year-old grandson, Awlaki’s son, the Denver-born teenager, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, killed in a U.S. drone strike in Yemen October 14, 2011, while he was eating dinner at an outdoor restaurant with his teenage cousin. He was killed just weeks after his father was assassinated in a similar drone strike.

NASSER AL-AWLAKI: I want Americans to know about my grandson, that he was very nice boy. He was very caring boy for his family, for his mother, for his brothers. He was born in August 1995 in the state of Colorado, city of Denver. He was raised in America, when he was a child until he was seven years old. And I never thought that one day this boy, this nice boy, will be killed by his own government.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Nasser al-Awlaki speaking about his grandson, Abdulrahman Awlaki, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike. He was 16 years old. That video was produced by the ACLU. We want to thank Medea Benjamin, co-founder of CODEPINK, author of the book Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control. She was in yesterday’s hearing, and she’s just recently back from protesting drone strikes in Pakistan.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we’ll turn to a former CIA analyst, Mel Goodman. This is Democracy Now! Back in a minute.

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