President Barack Obama deftly handled a heckler from the group Code Pink during his major speech on counterterrorism Thursday at National Defense University in which he called for the closure of Guantanamo Bay and defended the use of drone strikes.
Instead of being immediately being drowned out, Code Pink co-founder Medea Benjamin was allowed to sound off on her disapproval of the president's policies. Code Pink, a self-described “women-initiated grassroots peace and social justice movement,” has protested against drone strikes and the operations at Guantanamo.
“I love my country. I love the rule of law,” Benjamin said to Obama. Among other things, the Code Pink protester criticized the Obama administration about the drone strike that killed Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, son of U.S. citizen and al Qaeda militant Anwar al-Awlaki, himself killed in a separate, targeted drone strike. The government said the son was not targeted, whereas the drone that killed the elder al-Awlaki, also a U.S. citizen, was a targeted strike.
And instead of admonishing Benjamin, Obama stood up for her First Amendment rights, although the president said the two clearly disagreed on the issue.
“The voice of that woman is worth paying attention to,” Obama said in a deviation from his prepared remarks. “Obviously I do not agree with much of what she said. But these are tough issues. And the idea that we can gloss over them is wrong.”
The president also gave a nod to the Code Pink protester at the tail end of his remarks, where he talked about how to measure victory in the face of a different terrorist threat than the one the country faced on Sept. 11, 2001. He said those signs included “parents taking their kids to school,” “immigrants coming to our shores” and “fans taking in a ballgame.”
And, he added, “a citizen shouting their concerns at a president.”
You can watch the nod below. It starts at 58:35: