Anti-War Activist Detained, Injured in Cairo Says US Embassy ‘Was Missing in Action’

By Patrick Goodenough | March 5, 2014 | 4:20 AM EST

CodePink co-founder Medea Benjamin protests outside an American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference in Washington this week. (Photo: CodePink)

( – The State Department is disputing claims by CodePink co-founder Medea Benjamin that U.S. consular officials provided no help when she was detained at an airport in Cairo for more than 12 hours. During that time, the anti-war activist says Egyptian authorities badly injured her arm before deporting her.

“I can assure you that our consular officers in Egypt did provide all of the assistance necessary,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told a press briefing. She said she was prevented from giving more information due to privacy restrictions.

(Under the 1974 Privacy Act, State Department personnel are not allowed to release any information not considered to be in the public domain regarding private individuals, without their express written consent.)

Asked whether Benjamin’s “well-known political activism” would have affected what assistance would have been provided, Psaki replied, “Of course not. We provide a broad range of assistance to people from a broad range of backgrounds.”

CodePink said Benjamin flew into Cairo, planning to travel to the Gaza Strip, where she was to take part in a Palestinian solidarity event, but was detained overnight in a cell at the airport, before being put on a flight to Istanbul, Turkey.

“When the authorities came into the cell [in the morning] to deport me, two men threw me to the ground, stomped on my back, pulled my shoulder out of its socket and handcuffed me so that my injured arm was twisted around and my wrists began to bleed,” Benjamin, 61, said in a statement released by her organization. “I was then forced to sit between the two men who attacked me on the plane ride from Cairo to Istanbul, and I was (and still am) in terrible pain the whole time.”

Benjamin said nothing in that statement about seeking U.S. consular assistance, but in an interview from Istanbul with the left-wing radio show ”Democracy Now!” she said the U.S. Embassy had been “missing in action.”

“The CodePink people in D.C. were calling the embassy non-stop,” she said. “They were always saying, ‘They’re supposed to show up. They’re supposed to show up.’ They never showed up. I was on the tarmac. The Turkish airline was forced to take me, but we delayed an hour while they were debating what to do. There were about 20 men there. And the embassy never showed up the entire time.”

Benjamin told the station she was held from 8:30 in the evening until about 11 am the next morning.

“We put in so many calls. And they even knew then, when I was attacked and I was in excruciating pain and wanted their help to get to a hospital. They still didn’t show up then. And so, they were missing in action the entire time.”

The Associated Press reports that Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Badr AbdelAttie said that although Benjamin had a visa for Egypt, officials had told her the border to Gaza was closed. “She refused to return on the same flight.”

Benjamin co-founded CodePink to protest the Iraq war in 2003. Subsequent focuses have included the U.S. use of drones against terrorist targets and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Last May she made headlines when she heckled President Obama as he gave a speech at the National Defense University, shouting about drones and Guantanamo Bay detainees.

“The voice of that woman is worth paying attention to,” Obama said.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow