Code PINK activist Medea Benjamin deserves plenty of accolades because she puts herself out there on the frontline of social justice issues, in particular speaking for victims of the wars of US empire. However, her narrative that criticizes American imperialism is itself criticize-able for its rhetoric and omissions. Recently Benjamin appealed to frightened Americans in an essay, “10 Ways to Reduce the Threat of Terrorist Attacks on Americans.”
Benjamin calls for a “a moratorium on drone strikes.” But why not call for an outright ban on drone strikes and have them declared war crimes? The call for a moratorium suggests that drone strikes may not be a bad thing but for now let’s just wait.1 What are Benjamin’s reasons for declaring a drone strike moratorium? She writes, “Drone strikes have become the number one recruiting tool for extremists. By grounding the drones, we will stop creating new enemies faster than we can kill them.” This is an American-centric point of view. We, the Americans are good guys – not extremists; they, the Others, are bad guys, extremists, and terrorists. In such a manner, the portrayal of Americans as the violent ones is perceptibly minimized even though it is the American military carrying out the drone strikes.
Benjamin also calls for closing the US drone base in Saudi Arabia because: “It’s a national security threat ripe for blowback. So are many of the over 800 US bases peppered all over the world. We can save billions of taxpayer dollars, and make ourselves safer, by closing them.” Again, the emphasis here is on the security of Americans not the security of the Others targeted by American military bases.
She calls for the 86 Guantanamo prisoners to be cleared for release. She calls the US treatment of Guantanamo prisoners, “a blatant hypocrisy of our American values.” One wonders what American values she refers to. Do not actions reveal more about the character and values of an entity than mere words? Bush encapsulated this when he referred to the US Constitution (a legal declaration of American values, isn’t it? At least of the elitists who legislate such laws) as a “goddamned piece of paper.” Why should the Guantanamo prisoners-of-war (not prisoners as Benjamin writes, and the distinction is important because prisoners-of-war have certain rights under international law, to which the US is a signatory, that are abrogated at Guantanamo) be released for the US national interest (whatever is meant by such a term) and not because humans have rights? Benjamin also calls for uncleared remaining prisoners to be brought to the US for trials. By this very call, Benjamin implicitly grants that the US had a right to attack a nation that had never attacked the US; otherwise how could the US justifiably arrest people and bring them to the US for trial? She also implicitly grants that there are resistors in Afghanistan who might be criminals and should be judged by the US legal system. She does not call for judgment against the US for its war crimes, and she does not call for judgment against alleged US war criminals.
Benjamin calls for an apology and compensation for “innocent victims” “killed or maimed by the US armed forces or CIA.” Through her wording, Benjamin provides that there are both innocent and guilty victims; otherwise why delimit the victims?
The Code PINK activist says, “It’s long past the time to talk to the Taliban, and then move on to talk to those elements in Al Qaeda who are more rational and open to negotiations.” Benjamin looks for rational actors among those she implies are terrorists as opposed to her depiction of US personnel as military. In doing so, Benjamin speaks the language of imperialism.
Benjamin calls for ending US support of dictatorships and repressive militaries. “In Egypt,” she writes, “US weapons and tear gas were used for decades against peaceful demonstrators, and continue to be used against peaceful protesters supporting ousted Muslim Brotherhood. While weapons sales to undemocratic and/or unstable regimes might be good for US weapons manufacturers, they are bad for the reputation and security of the American people.” First, Benjamin omits US crimes of using chemical weapons against Afghanis and of blowing up wedding parties in Afghanistan. This is missing from the Benjamin account. Second, her argument and its morality is predicated primarily upon “the security of the American people.”
Benjamin concludes that her “10-point plan would significantly reduce terrorist threats, save taxpayers billions of dollars and make Americans more loved and admired in the world.”
It may well be that Benjamin is appealing to patriotic sentiment to bring about a public awareness of American war crimes and, therefore, she drops the language that directly points at US perfidy. Instead Benjamin unevenly spreads the blame. They are the terrorists, we are the military fighting terrorism. That is the essence of the narrative espoused by Benjamin. Is this an honest narrative? Nowhere in the Benjamin narrative is the covetousness of US corporations for access to offshore resources mentioned. Another elephant in the room that Benjamin does not mention is the anger felt among many Muslims over the US-aided Zionist occupation and oppression of fellow Muslims. Does she feel this is not a provocation for blowback?
Benjamin does call for en end to drone strikes, an end to warring, reparations for victims, bringing the US military back to the US, helping to alleviate poverty abroad. This is all laudable. She does not call for US war criminals to be prosecuted, as US veteran turned activist, Jay Janson indefatigably propounds.
Is peace and social justice served by a narrative that overlooks war crimes and removes war criminals from the reach of international justice tribunals?
- She does note elsewhere in the article that the National Dialogue Conference … passed, by overwhelming vote, a resolution declaring drones strikes and all extrajudicial killing illegal. Although lamenting the US’s refusal to “abide by the popular will,” Benjamin, however, did not explicitly add her own endorsement to that resolution. [↩]