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A Conversation with Medea Benjamin 

The CODEPINK cofounder, and Thomas Merton Center honoree, speaks out on drone warfare

Medea Benjamin

Medea Benjamin

Medea Benjamin co-founded the social justice/anti-war organization CODEPINK in 2002. Today, she is still rallying against military conflicts — specifically the use of armed drones to attack alleged terrorists. She recently published Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control, and returned from a trip to Pakistan, where her delegation participated in an anti-drone rally. Benjamin will be honored by Pittsburgh's Thomas Merton Center at its 40th anniversary on Thu., Nov. 8, at the Sheraton Station Square. Benjamin recently spoke to City Paper by phone from Washington, D.C. 

For more information on the anniversary event, visit www.thomasmertoncenter.org. For an extended version of this interview, click here. 

You're still fighting against the war in Afghanistan, sanctions on Iran and the use of drones, to name a few of your efforts. How would you gauge CODEPINK's impact on the anti-war cause? 

I think we've learned how important it is to have a movement that's not attached to a political party. A lot of our supporters really let down their guard after Barack Obama got in, and the whole peace movement, not just CODEPINK, shrunk tremendously. People thought, "Well, Obama is a peace president, let him take care of things." We built up a really strong movement under George Bush and then it collapsed under Obama, while we still have the problems of a loaded Pentagon, the continued war in Afghanistan, the threat of war in Iran, no peace process in Israel and Palestine, and now the [drone] strikes.

So why focus on drone warfare? 

I focus on the drone issues because that is the way of waging war in the future. If we don't get a handle on it now, it's going to be leading us into a world of chaos and lawlessness. It's very frustrating, I think, the lack of discussion. And the secrecy and silence of the media around drone strikes is one of the reasons why the American people for the most part don't know anything about it. They don't know innocent children, little children, are being vaporized by these death machines that are piloted from thousands of miles of away. They have no idea the kind of hatred we're creating, not just in places we're using [drones], but around the world when people are horrified and think this barbaric.

Does the fact that drone warfare was mentioned at all during the final presidential debate signal that it's being taken more seriously?

I was cheering when the word "drone" was mentioned by Bob Schieffer but there was no follow-up question, there was no discussion of innocent people being killed. 

I see a tremendous shift. At the time I was doing research [for the book], there was very little discussion about drone warfare. I would have a meeting at the State Department or with a congressperson, and they would call it the "alleged drone program" and wouldn't say anything about it. Now it's totally shifted in the last six months. We now have President Obama even talking about it — he didn't do it for the first three years. The two major candidates are now pretty much the same when it comes to drones. There are certainly much better policies coming from third-party candidates.

Where do you see CODEPINK going, given everything you're up against?

One thing I love about it is we never started out to become an organization, and I'm not concerned about continuing it as an organization. There's always this question of should CODEPINK fold up and is there a reason to keep going. It's not a negative kind of thing but [a question of] have we accomplished enough? When the Occupy movement started, it was a real question for us. We don't know if we'll be around in 10 years. Some of us hope not — that the war in Afghanistan will have ended, we will have achieved some level of regulation of this out-of-control drone warfare, and we'll see some peace with Iran and a peace process between Israel and Palestine. We want to be more spontaneous and see if we feel we're hitting a chord among enough people that it makes it worth all the effort.

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