A heckler interrupted the president during a counter-terrorism speech at National Defense University in Washington, D.C. Thursday.
“Let me finish, ma’am,” the president said repeatedly to the woman, who was identified by activist group Code Pink as Medea Benjamin. Benjamin yelled at the president to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility and release those held captive there.
“I’m about to address it ma’am, but you’ve got to let me speak,” he said again in a frustrated tone when she refused to be quiet.
The president called on Congress to lift the restrictions on detainee transfers from the Guantanamo Bay prison. When he began to speak about his plan to transfer detainees cleared to travel to other countries “to the greatest extent possible,” Benjamin began to yell again, demanding that the 87 cleared detainees should be released immediately.
“This is part of free speech, is you being able to speak, but also you listening, and me being able to speak,” Obama said after more than a minute of interruptions. His response drew applause from the audience.
“The voice of that woman is worth paying attention to,” Obama said later. “Obviously, I do not agree with much of what she said, and obviously, she wasn’t listening to me in much of what I said, but these are tough issues, and the suggestion that we can gloss over them is wrong.”
Obama was speaking at National Defense University, which is located in Fort McNair under heavy security; it was unclear how Benjamin was able to gain access.
It’s far from the only time the president has been heckled in a major speech. This past March, during an address in Israel, another heckler interrupted a speech Obama was making to university students.
“This is part of the lively debate that we talked about,” Obama said to loud applause from the audience. “This is good.”
He even joked at that time that he’d “arranged” for the heckler to help him “feel more at home.”
“I wouldn’t feel comfortable if I didn’t have at least one heckler,” the president said.
Obama has also been heckled by a reporter, a man who wanted to give him a book, and even by a sitting congressman, Joe Wilson, who accused him of lying during the State of the Union address to Congress.