Filmed by Ford Fischer
Story and Photos by Alejandro Alvarez
Medea Benjamin, co-founder of anti-war group CODEPINK: Women for Peace, didn’t plan on being threatened with arrest while delivering a petition to the State Department demanding accountability for a murdered journalist.
Yet, she was almost taken into custody on Friday — twice. Benjamin and about thirty other people spent Friday afternoon on the march in downtown D.C. over the apparent death of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Khashoggi, in CODEPINK’s view, fell victim to both a Saudi hit job and gross negligence from the Trump administration, whom the group sees as eager to let the whole thing slide if it means preserving a regional ally.
For CODEPINK activists, Mohammad Bin Salman, crown prince of Saudi Arabia, is an autocratic ruler whose human rights abuses are enabled by U.S. arms deals and military aid. CODEPINK has been protesting Saudi foreign policy for years, calling on international sanctions on the world’s last absolute monarchy over civilian casualties in Yemen.
But it was Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s recent meeting with the prince, together with Trump’s suggestion that Khashoggi has been slain not on Saudi order but by “rogue killers,” that had angered activists who marched on Friday.
“It’s disgusting for Secretary of State Pompeo to be cozying up to murderers,” Benjamin said in a media statement on Thursday. “Instead, Pompeo, along with President Trump, should be expressing outrage at this barbarous act and implementing appropriate responses, including cutting weapons sales and imposing sanctions on those involved, including the top leadership.”
Seeking to pressure White House and State Department officials into a tougher response, CODEPINK members addressed Pompeo in a petition demanding answers for Khashoggi’s death, sanctions against the kingdom and an end to military ties.
“This is the Saudi Monarchy, this is their nature,” said Ali al-Ahmed, an activist who marched with CODEPINK on Friday. “Murdering people in the most gruesome way is in the DNA of the Saudi government.”
Friday’s agenda, Benjamin told News2Share was simple: March to the State Department on Constitution Avenue, meet with a representative and deliver the single page petition. Things didn’t exactly go according to plan.
To Benjamin’s dismay, CODEPINK found themselves face-to-face with a line of police at the State Department, who denied knowledge of any communication beforehand over a petition delivery. Benjamin asked her group to sit-in on the agency’s driveway, refusing to move until they’d either be let inside, or a representative would come out to accept their delivery.
In an hour-long wait, Department of Homeland Security police threatened to arrest Benjamin and CODEPINK activist Ariel Gold who stood on a ledge and repeated their demand
Eventually, a public affairs representative accepted the petition from Gold, to cheers of “hallelujah” from protesters.
With the petition delivered, the next stop was a short march away at the Saudi Embassy, where the situation again got unexpectedly tense.
“We sat down very peacefully on the steps here, and they went ballistic,” Benjamin said, after being abruptly cuffed by one of several guards who blocked protesters off from the embassy proper.
The officer – a contractor with private firm United American Security – forcibly lifted Benjamin off the step only seconds after a verbal warning. He released Benjamin after she pleaded to be freed.
“We know who should get the handcuffs. Anybody working for the Saudi Embassy should get the handcuffs. Shame,” said Benjamin afterwards.
The officer, who wore no visible name badges, later declined to identify himself.
United American Security has not yet responded to a News2Share request for comment.