May 23rd, 2013
03:55 PM ET
9 years ago

Obama heckled by Code Pink leader

Washington (CNN) – President Barack Obama's solemn remarks on drones and counterterrorism were interrupted at length Thursday by a protester who loudly advocated for the closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison – the same position Obama was stressing in his speech.

The woman shouting was identified as peace activist Medea Benjamin of the group Code Pink, whose members have been loudly interrupting congressional hearings and official speeches for years.

"You are commander-in-chief – you can close Guantanamo today," Benjamin shouted during a portion of Obama's speech in which the president outlined changes in policy that included an all-out push to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba. She later yelled, "It's been 11 years!"

Benjamin herself is a frequent presence at events in Washington and elsewhere. It was unclear how she entered the speech, held at the National Defense University. Other members of the audience included students at the school, experts in human rights and national security, and government officials who have helped develop counterterrorism policies.

"This is part of free speech, is you being able to speak but also you listening and me being able to speak, alright?" Obama said upon the first interruption.

Benjamin kept up her protest, which also included a rebuke against American drone strikes which have killed civilians. Obama eventually diverted from his prepared remarks to address the situation head-on.

READ MORE: Obama says America at 'crossroads' in terror fight

"The voice of that woman is worth paying attention to," he said. "Obviously I do not agree with much of what she said and obviously she wasn't listening to me in much of what I said. But these are tough issues and the suggestion that we can gloss over them is wrong."

On their official Twitter page, the group hailed Benjamin's protest

And in the conclusion of his remarks, Obama added another nod to Benjamin's protest as he listed ways a victory in the war on terror would be assessed.

"Victory will be measured in parents taking their kids to school, immigrants coming to our shores, fans taking in a ballgame, a veteran starting a business, a bustling city street, a citizen shouting at your concerns at a president," he said.

"The quiet determination, that strength of character and bond of fellowship, that refutation of fear, that is both our sword and our shield."

READ MORE: Obama, 'troubled' by leak probes, calls for review

Filed under: President Obama
soundoff (99 Responses)
  1. truth hurts but reality bites

    Her tax returns had better be in order is all I have to say. And those phone lines? HA!

    May 23, 2013 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  2. Rod

    Excellent point, David. Even if someone objects to a president's policies or actions there should always be a level of respect for the office itself in my opinion. It's more effective to target someone's actions rather than resorting to personal attacks – which then reflect badly on the attacker.

    May 23, 2013 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  3. JCDavis

    For those who think Obama is far left, that's a joke. He's a continuation of George Bush. He's just as much a warmonger as Bush but a little less heavy on the trigger. And, like Bush, he loves the Patriot Act and cutting back on civil rights. So good that he was heckled. He needs more of that. Like Bush, he needs shoes thrown at him and thousands of protesters outside the White House.

    May 23, 2013 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  4. conor

    contemptuous disrespect for the office of President. I

    May 23, 2013 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  5. Russell Green

    Such disrespect should not go unpunished...This speech was meant for all of us not just someone with a strong opinion. If she wants the stage let her run for office and let us Americans hear the full speech unhindered...truly out of respect, to yourself even.

    May 23, 2013 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  6. Well I must say

    obama doesn't know the first thing about free speech nor does CNN

    May 23, 2013 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  7. Joe

    It is very disrespectful to the President to interrupt him and to do so over and over again and be rude about it. It is sign of the times where people all over this country and the world are showing less and less respect for one another. Free speech is one thing but when you are wrong it is obvious; in most cases and this was one where the heckler was wrong. Many people in the U.S. do not respect our President and they take opportunities like this to show their ignorance. Things are way out of control in our country and has been for awhile now. It would be good to see things change for a better society. But I doubt it will happen in our children's children's children's children's children's children's, etc, life time. We have a mental illness and it will only change after a long time of self awareness that we are mentally ill. Only by then, change will still take centuries and be very slow.

    May 23, 2013 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  8. Buck

    This woman is clearly a racist who should be charged with a hate crime for criticizing a black man.

    May 23, 2013 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  9. Robert

    Respect is earned not given!

    May 23, 2013 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  10. Get over it

    She should've threw her shoes at him.

    May 23, 2013 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  11. Chuckster

    I wish Michele Bachmann would heckle him like that. Now that would be good YouTube.

    May 23, 2013 04:31 pm at 4:31 pm |
  12. Anonymous

    How about giving Cuban's their land back. Since, the Spanish American war has been over for about 100 years.

    May 23, 2013 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  13. BigSir

    She does have a point. When does the talking stop and the prison closing begin? Same with the "Palestinian State". The lip service by Clinton, Bush, and now Obama needs some action.

    May 23, 2013 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  14. bear

    @ JCDavis, Interesting that you think warmongering and suppressing civil rights are not characteristics of the far left. They are the characteristics of both far left and far right. Stalin was far left. Pinochet was far right. When you are convinced your ideology is so wonderful you are willing to throw all else away to get it, you become a tyrant. Left or right, doesn't matter.

    May 23, 2013 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  15. Will S

    Obama is a moderate centrist, which is exactly what this country needs. The middle path leads to wisdom.

    May 23, 2013 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  16. Rollabear

    she had her addenda planned and her ears closed

    May 23, 2013 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  17. The Real Tom Paine

    Well, since Code Pink can't get to Congress, why not the President? Its a great thing to have free speech in this country, even when the Right wants to shut down everyone else's right to speak out. I guess, like everything else that is wonderful in this country, they think it should only apply to them since no one else has earned the right to speak freely. How do you acquire this freedom? By blindly parrotting everything that the Murdoch/Ailes network tells you to, and by abusing and shouting down anyone that gets in your way. Never let the truth get in the way of the Right's privilige to silence you. Remember the woman who protested outside of the Crawford ranch over the death of her son? Where was the Right then? Accusing her of collaboration with Al-Queda. We don't have a problem with free speech, righties. You do.

    May 23, 2013 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  18. Data Driven

    @markie Joe,

    I, too, have been amused by the emergence of peacenik conservatives since 2009.

    Not so amused by Obama's responses to Benjamin, though. Obama "obviously" disagrees with the notion that Gitmo should be closed and that droning should stop. Okay. I mean, granted, Benjamin was obnoxious ... But not incorrect. Also, I would like someone to prove to, definitely, that Obama just can't end Gitmo. I like to blame Republicans for stuff too, but since when does Congress have any real say in foreign affairs?

    All Presidents since FDR when it comes to foreign policy? "I'm the President! Do what I want!"

    Close Gitmo, Mr. President. It's the right thing to do.

    May 23, 2013 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  19. j williamson

    Does Obama (also!) cry for the many innocent children (in other countries) who have been slaughtered by drones? It has happened – and is still happening. His declaration of concern for the innocents is simply very cheap lip-service.

    May 23, 2013 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  20. Bill

    Great comment David, I agree 100%

    May 23, 2013 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
  21. Richard Mitchell

    She should have suggested a plan instead of just being a Nut Job. Gitmo is a black mark on the U.S. and yes something needs to be done, but WHAT? After years of being locked up, they sure aren't going to be friendly towards the U.S. Obama can't blame Bush for this as it was Bush's Boss, Cheney that got the mess started.

    May 23, 2013 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
  22. OwMySkull

    Sounds like Miss Benjamin needs to go back to her studio apartment and her 20 cats and start trying to find a man.

    May 23, 2013 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  23. Bob Lewis

    "Close Gitmo!" she exclaimed as she was closely followed by a Predator drone.....

    May 23, 2013 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  24. goblackhawks

    Gordon .. how is that kool-aide .. Yum Yum. Obama has investigated journalist , had them followed and even followed journalist talking to their parents. Obama has the IRS invetigate his "enemies". Obama thinks it is ok to kill AMericans with Drones .. Yes the REP want old ideas like Freedom of speech and assmebly .. to voice opinions ... We should just listen to Dear Leader and never question him ... Keep drinking the Kool-Aide

    May 23, 2013 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  25. Steve

    Four Federal Government Agencies are closing May 24, 2013 for business. They are the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the White House Office of Management and Budget. Thousands of Federal Employees are going to be forced to take leave without pay (Unpaid Furlough). More unpaid furloughs are coming in the future for different Federal Government Agencies.
    People don't realize the ripple effect the closing of Federal Government Agencies are going to have on the budgets for local government agencies. The city, county, and state government agencies all get money from some form of Federal Government Agency. All the cutbacks are going to hurt local government agencies too.
    Every single person in this country is going to feel the effects. It doesn't matter what political party you belong to. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is not only furloughing people, they are also closing permanently 18 HUD Offices around the country. All the Federal Government employees that get furlough have to take time off without getting paid. They are not allowed to go near the offices where they work while in unpaid status, or they can be disciplined and suspended.
    The local economics are going to be hurt by all these Federal Employees forced to take time off without pay. Good luck to them and good luck to all of us with what is coming in the future.

    May 23, 2013 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
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