President Barack Obama's planned counterterrorism speech was temporarily derailed several times on Thursday when activist Medea Benjamin shouted criticisms of the administration's use of drones and operation of the Guantanamo Bay detention camp.
Benjamin, co-founder of peace activist group Code Pink, was seated in the audience at National Defense University in Washington, D.C., where Obama gave his speech. She first interrupted him as he announced plans designed to move the U.S. closer to closing the facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
"You gotta let me speak. I'm about to address it," the president said in response to the heckling. He asked her to sit down so he could continue and repeatedly thanked her for her comments.
"This is part of free speech, is you being able to speak but also you listening and me being able to speak," Obama said, drawing wide applause from the audience.
After multiple outbursts and back-and-forths with the president, Benjamin was escorted out of the event.
"The voice of that woman is worth paying attention to. Obviously, I do not agree with much of what she said. And obviously she wasn’t listening to me and much of what I said. But these are tough issues and the suggestion that we can gloss over them is wrong," Obama said.
Benjamin and members of her San Francisco-based, women-initiated organization have a reputation in Washington for making scenes at high-profile events, including those with tight security.
Over the past several months, Code Pink members, including Benjamin, have interrupted the National Rifle Association's press conference on the Newtown, Conn., shooting response—where Benjamin unfurled a sign reading "NRA blood on your hands” and shouted, "reckless behavior coming from the NRA" before being forced from the room—and John Brennan's confirmation hearing to be director of the CIA, which was temporarily suspended as aides cleared the room.
Benjamin, a 2000 U.S. Senate candidate in California, co-founded Code Pink (the name a hat tip to color-coded terrorism warnings) in 2002 to protest against the Iraq War. President George W. Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld are counted among the group's previous high-profile targets.