There ended up being two speakers today at the National Defense University in DC. The first, as planned, was President Obama. The other, speaking for perhaps a few minutes in total, was Madea Benjamin, a heckler from Code Pink.
Benjamin is a cofounder of the organization, a non-profit activist organization focused on limiting American military intervention overseas. Last year, the group announced a new focus on drone strikes — and Benjamin just released a book on the topic.
A well-known figure in the nation's capital, her appearance today elicited some surprise that she was allowed in. In February, for example, Benjamin and other activists interrupted the Senate confirmation hearings for John Brennan. For that speech, Benjamin gave a fake name. (It's her trick.)
At three points during today's speech, Benjamin began yelling from the audience.
The first time, Obama had just begun speaking about his renewed plans to close the detainment center at Guantanamo Bay. Benjamin, as seen above, confronted the president on a long-standing moratorium on transferring Yemenese prisoner from the facility. "Why don't you sit down, and I'll tell you exactly what I'm going to do," the president said — and he did, continuing his speech in which he mentioned that the moratorium would be lifted.
I am ducking down in font of Medea, hoping not to be dragged away by association....— Rosa Brooks (@brooks_rosa) May 23, 2013
Two more times Benjamin jumped in; each time, the president responded with surprising graciousness. At one point he noted that he was going off-script to respond.
POTUS ad-libs about heckler: "I'm willing to cut the young lady ... some slack. Because it's worth being passionate about."— Mike O'Brien (@mpoindc) May 23, 2013
Heckler to Obama: "Will you apologize to the thousands of Muslims that you have killed?"— Jamie Dupree (@jamiedupree) May 23, 2013
"The voice of that woman is worth paying attention to. Obviously I do not agree w much of what she said... but these are tough issues."— Spencer Ackerman (@attackerman) May 23, 2013
In disrupting Obama's speech, @medeabenjamin asked POTUS a question no journalist has: What about the killing of 16 yr old Abdulrahman?— jeremy scahill (@jeremyscahill) May 23, 2013
Media scrum around heckler. Shouting again. Finally ejected twitter.com/thomaswright08…— Tom Wright (@thomaswright08) May 23, 2013
After — or, perhaps, during — the third interruption, Benjamin was removed from the audience. About a minute later, the president wrapped up his remarks, too.
Photo: Picture of Benjamin being escorted out taken by Rosie Gray.