(MintPress) – Peace activists targeted the left Thursday during the confirmation hearing for John Brennan, appointed as the new director for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), resulting in the arrest of eight individuals protesting his involvement in U.S. drone strikes overseas.
With pink painted hands held high, activists with Code Pink, a peace advocacy organization, displayed signs that read, “Brennan: A National Security Risk,” a message addressed directly to the drone program, which has killed more than 500 civilians, including more than 50 children, and has targeted funeral goers and rescue workers, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
“You are betraying democracy when you assassinate suspects,” one activist called out, while surrounded by police and puzzled senators. Their attacks were aimed at Brennan, the man who served four years as President Barack Obama’s chief counter-terrorism aide.
Code Pink has been the nation’s most vocal voice against U.S. drone war operations overseas. Its organizers have worked tirelessly to educate the nation on the drone program, going so far as traveling to Pakistan in October to meet with those whose families, friends and neighbors have fallen victim to drone attacks.
Code Pink co-founder Medea Benjamin and author of “Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control,” said in an interview with Mint Press News that the actions carried out by her and fellow activists at Brennan’s confirmation hearing were intended to draw attention to the issue — and they did.
Major news outlets, including the Washington Times and Politico, picked up on the story, offering another dimension on an issue that has been hidden in the shadows of American politics.
“Anytime we can get our message out about the large number of civilian casualties and how counterproductive the drone war is we grab it,” Madea told Mint Press Friday morning. “And yesterday was a very key moment when we got to show that not all Americans agree with this policy and that we’re so angry about it that we are willing to stand up get arrested and face the consequences.”
Code Pink activists arrested, lectured for lack of ‘respect’
Eight people were arrested after the confirmation hearing protests, each for charges relating to unlawful conduct.
Democrat Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who also serves as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, gave the order to clear Code Pink activists from the hearing.
A video released by POLITICO includes audio of Feinstein discussing the need to clear the room in order to deal with the incident, which temporarily halted the hearing. After protesters were escorted out by Capitol police, Feinstein addressed the crowd, making it known that interruptions would not be tolerated.
“Let me just say right up front, that the process is, that people are respectful. They don’t cheer, they don’t hiss, they don’t show signs, that this is to listen,” Feinstein said. “If that’s a problem for anybody, I ask you to leave the room now, because what we will do is remove you from the room. Let there be no doubt.”
Medea told Mint Press News Friday morning that activists planned on attempting to meet with Feinstein Friday afternoon, asking her for the same respect, in regard to human life.
“We’re going to Dianne Feinstein’s office today. We’re very angry about her covering up the number of civilian casualties and the way that she just dismisses our concerns about all the innocent people being killed,” Benjamin said. “We’re going to bring her the list of the names and ask for her to investigate the list.”
Code Pink: A message behind the mayhem
Code Pink has made headlines twice within the last few months. At the National Rifle Association (NRA) press conference in December, following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, Benjamin and her team made their way inside and interrupted the press conference by displaying bright anti-NRA signs.
Their actions received notice, as the messages were prominently displayed. One male Code Pink activist was also publicly escorted out, yelling out his message during the process.
Those who aren’t familiar with Code Pink or the message they represent categorize them, as Feinstein did at the Brennan hearing, as people intending on making interruptions. But Benjamin said Code Pink is much more than that. While high-profile events are helpful in spreading their message, there’s much work done behind the scenes as well.
When not making a splash at hearings, Benjamin said she and her team of activists are still present, taking notes and writing articles for their website on issues relating to human rights. The organization’s calendar is brimming with events around the nation — and world — intended on gathering information, research and educating groups.
Benjamin has also been busy on her book tour, highlighting America’s drone war program in the Middle East and Africa.
Removing the shadows on drones
In an October, 2012 interview with Mint Press News, Benjamin said she was pleased that the issue of U.S. drone strikes overseas was brought up during the presidential debate between President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
It was the first time Americans learned where Romney stood on the issue, as drone strikes had rarely made headlines.
Just a few months later, the issue is being discussed on a national, public level.
“We’re excited about the growing opposition to drone warfare that is finally catching on around the country,” Medea said. “The week before the hearing we sent out an appeal to try to get 100 faith-based leaders. We’ve got them — every day we get more of them that say we want to sign on.”
With a democrat in the Oval Office, there is room now to discuss the issue with Republicans, including those who see an imbalance of power — a dangerous one that results in the loss of life — in the hands of few.
Republican Sen. Charles Grassley questioned the authority given to the CIA to carry out drone programs against U.S. citizens suspected of terrorism, without government oversight.
“Taking the life of an American citizen is a tremendous power and one that should not go unchecked,” he said Thursday, following Brennan’s confirmation hearing.
Brennan expressed in the hearing that U.S. drone strikes were used as a last resort, not as a punishment. Yet even the CIA has failed to release numbers relating to the number of innocent civilians killed in drone strikes, changing the definition of “civilian” to exclude any adult male who happened to be in the area at the time of the drone strike.