U.S. is not popular in Muslim countries because it’s occupying Afghanistan, it’s carrying out drone attacks in Muslim countries, and it’s supporting Israel unconditionally. U.S. has also been supporting undemocratic countries in the Middle East such as Saudi Arabia and Bahrain because of its economic and military interests.
Medea Benjamin has been a vibrant advocate for social justice and human rights for more than 30 years but she has recently become known to Pakistanis when she visited the long march with Imran Khan. As a cofounder of CODEPINK and the international human rights organization Global Exchange, she has been identified as “one of the high profile leaders of the peace movement” by the Los Angeles Times.
Her work for justice in Israel/Palestine includes taking numerous delegations to Gaza after the 2008 Israeli invasion and organizing the Gaza Freedom March among other bold protests in Israel. In 2011 she was in Tahrir Square during the Egyptian uprising and in 2012 she was part of a human rights delegation to Bahrain in support of democracy activists where she was tear-gassed, arrested and deported by the Bahraini government.
In 2005 she was one of 1,000 exemplary women from 140 countries nominated to receive the Nobel Peace Prize and in 2010 she received the Martin Luther King, Jr. Peace Prize from the Fellowship of Reconciliation.
A former economist and nutritionist with the United Nations and World Health Organization, Benjamin is the author and editor of eight books. Her latest book is called Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control, and she has been campaigning to get lethal drones out of the hands of the CIA.
In the following exclusive interview with Viewpoint, she candidly comments on a wide range of international and human rights issues including drone attacks, nuclear politics and Iran, Afghanistan, U.S. elections and the rising public opinion against U.S.in the Muslim world:
Code Pink has been active in several countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel and Pakistan, protesting against war and human rights violations in unusual but effective ways. Why it’s known as a women’s organization only?
Code Pink is led by women, but is not exclusively a women’s organization. Men are most welcome to participate in its activities and many men are involved in the organization.
United States is carrying out drone attacks in Muslim countries such as Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen, killing more civilians than terrorists. What’s the legal and moral justification for it?
U.S. drone attacks are unjustified and illegal. The U.S. administration argues that it is using drones in self-defense, but self-defense is only justified when an attack is imminent, which is not the case with drone attacks.
The administration also says it has the go-ahead from Congress due to the post-9/11 Authorization for the Use of Military Force resolution. But that resolution allowed force against those who planned, committed or aided the 9/11 attack. Most people being killed by drones today had no involvement in 9/11. In fact, many were 10-11 years old children at the time of 9/11 and some of the groups we are attacking didn’t even exist in 2001.
Knowing that Imran Khan’s moderately conservative political party is desperately trying to gain popularity for the next election in Pakistan, why did Code Pink decide to participate in the anti-drone march organized by his party, becoming part of his political campaign?
We went to Pakistan to show our opposition to drone attacks, not to support a candidate or party. We would have marched with any party protesting the drones, it just so happens that the PTI is the party that has taken this issue on. Also, participating in the caravan to the tribal areas was just one thing we did in Pakistan. We met with representatives of political parties, think tanks, women’s groups, human rights groups, military and legal groups. We organized a fast in a public square in Islamabad, where we had a chance to talk to hundreds of ordinary Pakistanis. But most important, we met with people from Waziristan and heard heart-breaking stories about how they are attacked, killed, injured and terrorized by these drones.
There are talks of Israel’s possible attack on the Iranian nuclear sites these days. What’s your organization’s official position on the issue?
We are totally against any attack on Iran’s nuclear sites and think that the conflict with Iran must be dealt with through negotiations. We are also against sanctions that are crippling the economy and hurting ordinary Iranians.
Our group is against nuclear armaments—period. I don’t know if Iran is developing nuclear weapons but I do know that other countries in the region—Israel, India and Pakistan—already have them and are not part of any non-proliferation treaty. It’s hypocritical of the U.S.to focus on Iran while maintaining the largest nuclear arsenal in the world and not pressuring other nations to participate in the nonproliferation treaty.
Despite his open support for drone attacks on some Muslim nations, do you think Code Pink will support President Obama against Romney in the next presidential election? If not who would you support?
Code Pink does not involve itself in partisan politics as an organization. However, I personally support the Green Party’s presidential candidate Jill Stein.
America is ostensibly trying to get out of Afghanistan by 2014. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, is gearing up for the economically driven“ New Silk Road” initiative to transport natural resources, mainly oil, from Central Asia to the West. Do you really think U.S. will get out of Afghanistan?
The U.S. military has left Iraq but still has its active presence in the country with over 10,000 personnel and the largest embassy in the world. So in my view U.S. will not totally withdraw from Afghanistan. In fact, they are talking about extended military training in Afghanistan for another 10 years.
In your opinion why is America not popular in Muslim countries these days and what can be done to improve its image among Muslims?
U.S. is not popular in Muslim countries because it’s occupying Afghanistan, it’s launching drone attacks on Muslim countries, and it’s supporting Israel unconditionally. U.S. has also been supporting undemocratic countries in the Middle East such as Saudi Arabia and Bahrain because of its economic and military interests.
Do you have plans to visit other Muslim countries?
Yes, I will be visiting Yemen soon to do research on the impact of drone attacks there. But frankly, the most important work is to build a stronger anti-war, anti-drone movement here in the United States.
With so much violence, conflict and hatred in the world today, peace and harmony look like a remote possibility. What are Code Pink’s plans to reduce the possibility of another global or regional war in the near future?
We must do a better job educating public on the cost of war. War creates economic crisis and that’s why we can’t afford more war. We must continue to play the role of “citizen diplomats”, reaching out in friendship to people in countries like Iran and Pakistan. We must pressure our government to change its policies by protesting and lobbying. And we must build coalitions with environmental, healthcare and educational groups that are being hurt because of all the money that is going to the military.
Who are your favorite leaders in the following categories: political leader, activist, writer, poet and singer? Why?
My favorite current political leader is Dennis Kucinich, the U.S. Congressman from Ohio who is very outspoken against war. My favorite living activist is Father Louis Vitale, an 80-year-oldpriest who has been arrested hundreds of times for his commitment for social justice.
Writer and poet Alice Walker is my favorite writer. She is a fiction and nonfiction writer, poet and activist. Also, Michael Franti is one of my favorite musicians because he has a powerful message for peace and harmony through his music.