Former congresswoman and peace activist Cynthia McKinney discusses her participation in a 2008 attempt to break the Israeli blockade of the Gaza strip to deliver humanitarian aid there, the Israeli navy’s ramming of their boat, the accurate coverage provided by a CNN anchor on scene and the power the Israeli Lobby has over the congress of the United States.
MP3 here. (20:28)
Cynthia McKinney is a former US Congresswoman and a member of the Green Party since 2007. She served six terms as a member of the United States House of Representatives as a Democrat. In 2008, the Green Party nominated McKinney for President of the United States.
Transcript – Scott Horton interviews Cynthia McKinney July 7, 2010
Scott Horton: All right, y’all, welcome back to the show. It’s Antiwar Radio. I’m Scott Horton. And it turns out we are going to talk with Cynthia McKinney on the show today, right now in fact. Hi Cynthia, welcome to the show.
Cynthia McKinney: Well, thank you so much for having me.
Horton: Well, I’m very happy to have you here. Everybody, you know her. Cynthia McKinney is a former politician, was a congresswoman and Green Party presidential candidate, and is a world-famous peace activist, of course. And I was wondering if you could tell us, you know, this whole flotilla incident recently with the Israeli raid on the Turkish boats full of aid trying to break the Gaza blockade, has kind of brought this up and gotten a lot more people paying attention. I was hoping we could kind of go back over the story of your involvement with a previous attempt to break the blockade of the Gaza strip, and hopefully people will remember at least the headlines, the Israeli patrol boats – I guess they didn’t kill anybody, but they rammed y’all’s ship on the open sea, is that right?
McKinney: You’re absolutely right. The Israelis have been leading up to committing this kind of murder of human rights activists who were trying to take humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza, and quite frankly it started in December of 2008 when Israel launched Operation Cast Lead – that was their military assault on the 1½ million people of Gaza using U.S.-supplied F-16s, depleted uranium, helicopter gunships, you name it, they were willing to use it, whether it was legal or illegal according to international law. And we had three tons of medical supplies. We had doctors who were prepared to perform surgery on those who were in need. And the Israelis, in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, while we were in international water, rammed our boat trying to kill us. And the only thing that saved us was that it was a very old boat, and instead of being made of fiberglass it was made of wood, and it was that very solid wood construction that saved our lives. And then the government of Lebanon agreed to rescue us, and we limped into the Lebanon port accompanied by their navy, and we were received by the people as if we were heroes, when we were really nothing more than humanitarian activists. And then, undeterred, as I said on CNN, undeterred, we attempted to provide humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza once again. And this is all being done, coordinated, through the Free Gaza movement. So we put ourselves on a boat again, and this time there were 21 of us. We were on the boat and –
Horton: If it’s okay, I’d like to stop you there and ask you about the first trip here. I mean, this is a – I kind of want to ask you to paint a picture of the scene. What kind of boat were you attacked by, how big was it, how hard did they ram your boat, how certain are you that they really were trying to sink your boat and kill y’all?
McKinney: Well, for those who are listening and they want to know more about the story, it is still available on CNN.com. I checked it just probably a few weeks ago to make sure that the story was still up there, and at that time it was still there. And it was still there as reported by, I say, this journalist, this is a true journalist, Karl Penhaul, his name, P-e-n-h-a-u-l. He has broken several stories for CNN after the story about the ramming of our boat. He happened to be on the boat. Now, I would presume that CNN thought that they could embed a pro-Israeli journalist on the boat who would report the Israeli disinformation as the operation came underway, to thwart our entry into the Gaza port. But Karl Penhaul refused to do so. He refused to lie. And he told the truth. And therefore the world knew the truth because CNN placed this journalist there, and this journalist proved to have integrity.
Horton: I’m actually looking at a picture of the boat right now. I believe, perhaps, if my Googling was effective here, the article you’re referring to is “Gaza relief boat damaged in encounter with Israeli vessel,” is that it?
McKinney: It might be that, because they called it –
Horton: There’s quite a few here, actually, it looks like. But there’s a picture here of the boat in ruins.
McKinney: The boat was totalled! It couldn’t be used anymore! In fact, the boat was so damaged, it could not even be repaired. So, you know, and Israel put out all kinds of lies during the incident, and you know they said things like they didn’t know who we were. Well, that’s not true because we did press conferences before we left. We did press availabilities at the boat as we were leaving. The Israeli military – as is the standard operating procedure of the Free Gaza movement, they informed the Israeli government of not only the course that the boat was going to take, but they also informed the Israeli government of the cargo and the passengers. So Israel was fully aware of everyone.
And then when we were under attack, the Israelis announced to us, “Go back to Larnaca.” At the same time they’re saying to us they didn’t know who we were, they’re saying to the public they didn’t know who we were, they knew that we had come from Larnaca, Cyprus, which is where our boat, you know, the Free Gaza headquarters is located and that’s where our boat had come from. So it was just lie after lie. And then the last lie they put out was that it was my fault. That was a statement– and it’s there on the CNN website as well, a statement that was issued from the Israeli consulate in Atlanta, Georgia. Of course they’re savvy enough to know that I’m from Georgia. And so they put out their disinformation from the Georgia office, from the Georgia wing of their entire propaganda operation. But I have to say that Karl Penhaul was just absolutely masterful. Here he is, the boat’s taking on water, and it’s just a yacht, it’s a pleasure boat, you know, and first of all he’s reporting that we had been surrounded by Israeli warships, and of course the –
Horton: Yes, it says here that they had been shining the spotlight on you for half an hour before, so it’s not like some accident where they bumped into you or something.
McKinney: Exactly! But, you know, but then they turned the spotlight off when they rammed us, of course. And so anyway, I don’t know how to swim, so I mean you know it was quite a thing for me to spend Christmas with my family and then just say, “Bye y’all, I’m going to Gaza.”
Horton: Well, and the silence of the American government at the time, this attack, attempted murder, it sounds like to me, of a former American congressperson is about the same silence that involved the killing of an American citizen in the latest flotilla raid. It doesn’t seem to matter as long as it’s Israel doing the murder or attempted murder.
McKinney: Well, now, you know, that’s very interesting. Because of course this was right after the 2008 election and just before Barack Obama had been sworn in, so Barack Obama, I asked publicly for a comment, and he said, “There’s only one president at a time.” So that meant that nobody said anything.
Horton: Yeah. And he didn’t say anything this last time either. All right, we’ll be right back with Cynthia McKinney after the break, y’all. Hang tight.
Horton: All right, y’all, welcome back to the show. It’s Antiwar Radio on the Liberty Radio Network. I’m talking with Cynthia McKinney, peace activist. We won’t hold it against you that you’re a former politician, ma’am.
McKinney: [laughs] Well, let’s see, I’ll say I wasn’t a politician, but I was a public servant.
Horton: Ah, there you go! I haven’t heard that term in a long time. Okay.
McKinney: I know. The idea is –the concept is alien to most of those people who purport to represent us.
Horton: Afraid so. All right, well, and speaking of which, we were going out to the break there, when the bumper music started, talking about the silence of Barack Obama. “Only one president at a time” he said, about the Israeli military’s attempt to kill you on the high seas in 2008 there, and then of course he was silent throughout Operation Cast Lead, which ended right before he took the oath, just as he was silent and his state department was silent when they killed an American citizen on the assault on the Mavi Marmara a few weeks back. Isn’t that their job, to protect American citizens from attack by foreign governments?
McKinney: Of course not, because now President Obama wants to kill American citizens.
Horton: Yeah, himself. He’s got dozens and dozens of people on the list. That may include you, I hope not. May include me.
McKinney: [laughs] Well I very well could be on the list. I mean, anyone who stands up and speaks out and who reveres the idea of what America can be and who believes that the American people deserve to reap the peace dividend that we were promised after the Berlin Wall fell, and we didn’t get that. We never got a peace dividend because there was always some war that needed to be financed, and the Congress just goes right along. So what I have begun to think about is the idea that average, ordinary peace people need to run for office. We need to support them. I just heard the ad that was played that there is now a civil disobedience fund so that people can get bailed out of jail, and, I mean, you know, we are going to have to activate in order to take our country back. Our country has been hijacked, and right now, now just imagine if you’ve got 19 men with box cutters and they can overtake 200 or so people on an airplane – which I don’t believe, because if I had been on the airplane, there would have been some serious business going on.
Horton: Yeah well, even that day, when it got to the fourth plane and they had enough time to talk to people on the ground who said, “Hey listen, you’re on a guided missile right now, you’re not landing in Cuba, pal,” they rushed the cockpit, and that’s what any group of passengers on any American plane would do now, certainly.
McKinney: Absolutely. So, we are going to have to activate those people of conscience to step outside of where they have been comfortable. Because right now our country is not comfortable. The global community that is willing to accept U.S. leadership in a peace initiative is not comfortable. Mother Earth, with what BP has just insulted Mother Earth, and not only BP, but this is something that is happening all over our planet, and a blind eye has been turned to these massive insults to the environment. We are going to have to step outside of our comfort zone in order to change things.
Horton: Yeah, well, and, speaking of which, you definitely practice what you preach here. And, I want to get back to focusing on your activism in the Middle East, because I did interrupt you actually and take you off the path when you were talking about you were rescued at sea by the Lebanese government, I guess, and then you went back. And, you know, I’d be happy to talk about all the rest of the stuff another time too.
McKinney: Yes, so, undeterred, the Free Gaza movement was able to raise enough money to, you know – and these little boats that they have, they’re no competition to these great big huge U.S.-supplied, technologically advanced warships that the Israelis have. And when those commandos – and then the second, it was a little ferry, and this little ferry, you know, we’re going, it’s going to take us 30 hours to get there, to show you how slowly the boat went. And this little ferry is headed, and we’ve got our medical supplies, and this time we also had school supplies because we had been told that the children needed school supplies. And I went around and I solicited, and I had received donations of Crayola crayons and coloring books and paintbrushes and that sort of thing for the kids.
And so we’re there, there’s 21 of us, and all of a sudden again – well, we passed the place where the Dignity, which was the first boat, had been rammed. We passed that place and at that moment we all kind of, you know, held hands, because the captain was the same, the captain of the Spirit of Humanity was the same captain, he was wonderful, and the first mate was the same crazy Irish guy who is totally committed, and so we played a song and we, you know, just sort of respected that space in the Mediterranean. Then we went on and proceeded to Gaza, and out of nowhere the Israelis have some kind of machine I’ve never seen before that makes waves, and they were trying to tip us over. This little ferry didn’t tip over, thank goodness, and so then they went to Plan B. Plan B was they jammed the GPS and shut it off. It was off for several hours. And during that time they had hoped that we would veer off course and then they would have an excuse, if we wandered into Israeli territorial water, that they would have an excuse to pick us up. But that did not happen because our captain – who was not an activist, he was hired by the Free Gaza movement because he is an expert captain, not because he was an activist. And the captain navigated the seas the old-fashioned way, using the stars. And we, by the time the GPS came back on, we were just a little bit off course, not really enough to even say anything about. And so Plan B didn’t work. There was nothing left for the Israelis to do other than surround us and then commandeer our boat and kidnap us. And that’s what they did. And they brazenly did it.
Horton: Now, I’m sorry. I’m sorry to stop you here, but we only have a couple of minutes and I got to squeeze in this last question about American politics. You were a member of the House of Representatives, and I was hoping you could help me and the audience understand why it is that Congress and the rest of the national government are so afraid to really contradict the Israeli government. What is – I mean, it’s not like they’re all Republicans who are having sex with little kids and stuff, some of them obviously, but they can’t be all blackmailed. What are they so afraid of?
McKinney: Well, anyone who’s familiar with the testimony of Sibel Edmonds can understand the kind of blackmail that goes on on Capitol Hill. Sibel told the truth and that’s why she, her message has been suppressed. With that having been said, though, just look at the fact that we have a war party and it consists of both Democrats and Republicans. Both Democrats and Republicans go to the same people to raise money, and the same people are giving to Democratic candidates, they give to Republican candidates, they give to the Democratic Party, they give to the Republican Party, and so both political parties are bought. That’s why you get the silence. Because both political parties are bought and therefore anyone who dares to speak out, as I happen to have done, would get targeted. And then of course on the Hill they call it being “McKinneyed.” They’ve got a verb for it. And no one wants to suffer the humiliation that I have suffered at the hands of the pro-Israel lobby.
Horton: Well, and it could be – you must be kind of proud of that, in a funny way, but it could be any other number of congressmen, Hollings, or a lot of others who’ve suffered the same fate, but that’s really just what it comes down to is campaign contributions. That’s what M. J. Rosenberg wrote today in an article, or yesterday in an article, about Obama and Netanyahu pretending like they’re going to do anything about the colonization of the West Bank when what it’s all about is just making nice for the upcoming midterm.
McKinney: Well, look. There’s 11 U.S. warships off the coast of Iran.
McKinney: So they’re doing more than making nice. They’re about to make war.
Horton: Aw, geez. Well all right. Thank you. We’re going to have to leave it right there. Cynthia McKinney, everybody. I appreciate it very much.
McKinney: Thank you.