FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 11, 2014
Contact: Medea Benjamin, CODEPINK Co-founder, 415.235.6517, firstname.lastname@example.org
Alli McCracken, CODEPINK Legislative Director, 860.575.5692, email@example.com
US Peace Activist Assaulted by Egyptian Authorities, US Embassy in Cairo Fails to Provide Assistance, State Department Covers Up
Washington, DC –– On the night of March 3, 2014, co-founder of the peace group CODEPINK Medea Benjamin was on her way to Egypt to join an international delegation of women going to Gaza when she was detained by border police in the Cairo airport, held overnight in a cell, and then brutally tackled by Egyptian authorities (her arm badly injured), handcuffed, and deported to Turkey. At no point during her ordeal was Ms. Benjamin provided with any explanation or any assistance from the US Embassy in Cairo, despite the State Department’s claims to the contrary.
Five hours into Ms. Benjamin’s 17-hour ordeal, it was made clear to US officials that Ms. Benjamin felt that her safety was in jeopardy. After repeated calls to the US Embassy in Cairo from Ms. Benjamin, as well as her colleagues in Cairo and the US, the State Department says it sent an embassy representative to where Ms. Benjamin was being held, but Egyptian authorities prevented them from visiting her.
In a press conference on March 4, 2014, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said “Our consular officers in Egypt were in contact with the U.S. citizen and provided all appropriate consular assistance” (http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/dpb/2014/03/222898.htm). This erroneous version of events was repeated by major media outlets such as the New York Times, CBS, The Nation, and more. Clearly Ms. Benjamin was not provided assistance, in fact she never heard from the embassy.
At a March 7, 2014, press conference (http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/dpb/2014/03/222962.htm), Spokeswoman Psaki was asked by AP reporter Matt Lee, “Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say you tried to provide her with all appropriate consular assistance, but you were unable to get through to her?” to which Ms. Psaki responded “Sure. That is a fair statement.”
The State Department’s failure to assist a US citizen in danger abroad and its subsequent cover-up sets a dangerous precedent for traveling Americans. “Had the embassy come to my assistance, I would have never been assaulted and would not be suffering from the physical trauma I am today,” said Ms. Benjamin. “I bet if I were John Kerry’s sister, they would have quickly rushed to my aid and lodged a complaint with the Egyptian government. In my case, I’ve simply been abandoned by my government.”
“What happened to Medea is traumatizing, but is minor compared to what Egyptian activists are going through, including women. Thousands of peaceful Egyptian demonstrators have been killed or jailed by the military junta since the July 2013 military coup,” said CODEPINK Legislative Director Alli McCracken. She asked, “Why are we giving over $1 billion a year in US taxpayer dollars to this abusive military government?”
Ms. Benjamin has since filed an official complaint with the State Department, and submitted the following questions (see below). She has yet to hear back.
In response to a call from the women of Gaza, Benjamin planned to travel through Egypt to be a part of the CODEPINK contingent of an international coalition of 100 women traveling to Gaza to witness the hardships facing the 1.7 million residents, deliver humanitarian aid, and call attention to the need for a longer-term strategy to achieve peace and justice for Palestinians. She has been working for months with the Egyptian government to secure safe passage for the women.
Benjamin is available for interviews and can be reached at 415.235.6517.
Questions Ms. Benjamin submitted to the State Department:
What time did you receive your first phone call regarding my detention?
When was the first time you attempted to contact me, and how did you try, and how many times?
How many times did you attempt to call me and at what numbers? [Many other people, including journalists, managed to reach me.]
What is your normal response time for someone who is in detention?
At what point in my detention were you made aware of the fact that I felt threatened?
What time was the first time you contacted the Egyptian government on my behalf?
At the time that you heard I had been physically attacked, what was your response?
At what time did the embassy try to see me, but was prevented by the Egyptian authorities?
Have US officials been prevented from providing consular assistance to an American detained in the Cairo airport before?
If so, what is the US State Department/Embassy doing to address this?
Is Egypt legally obliged to allow the US Embassy access to a citizen who deems he/she is in danger from host government?
Why did the State Department say that it has been in contact with me and "provided appropriate services" when I never heard from anyone?
Will the State Department make a public correction?
What would you do differently if something similar happened in the future?
What would you advise that I, or other citizens, do in similar circumstances in order to get appropriate representation from the Embassy?
Will the State Department assist me in seeing that the Egyptian authorities are held accountable for my physical abuse?