An anti-war activist confronted General Dynamics CEO Phebe Novakovic on Wednesday during the company’s shareholders’ meeting, accusing the defense industry giant of profiting off war crimes and arming repressive, undemocratic regimes without “moral reflection.”
“I appreciate the care you’ve taken to keep us safe during COVID,” CODEPINK co-founder Medea Benjamin told General Dynamics’ board, which included Novakovic and former Defense Secretary James Mattis. “But,” she added, “I wonder about the care that this company takes to keep people safe from the bombs and the other weapons that you produce that kill innocent people around the world.”
Benjamin then listed off a handful of instances in which General Dynamics’ products were involved in gross human rights abuses and civilian deaths during war, including a marketplace bombing in Yemen in 2016 that killed nearly 100 civilians, including 25 children, and former President Trump’s child separation policy at the U.S. southern border.
“I also know that you sell weapons, we, this company, sells weapons to the most repressive dictatorships in the world like Saudi Arabia, like the United Arab Emirates, like Bahrain and provides, through the U.S. Pentagon, weapons to the repressive government of Egypt,” Benjamin said, later adding, “if you have a model where you need global conflict, where you need wars to be able to make money I think there’s something fundamentally wrong with this company and you ought to have some more moral reflection about how you earn your billions of dollars.”
“I’m going to presume that you are a person of good faith,” Novakovic responded, claiming that “some of the potentially libelous and incorrect information that you have communicated is born out of lack of knowledge.”
The General Dynamics CEO — whose total compensation has averaged over $21 million annually since 2014 — later said that Benjamin’s assertions about the company’s involvement in the 2016 Yemen bombing and Trump’s border child separation policy were incorrect.
“The internet is full of misinformation, including the incident you cited in the marketplace and including the caging of children,” she said.
Yet Human Rights Watch investigated the aftermath of the 2016 bombing at the Yemen marketplace and “found remnants at the market of a GBU-31 satellite-guided bomb, which consists of a US-supplied MK-84 2,000-pound bomb mated with a JDAM satellite guidance kit, also US-supplied.” General Dynamics sells the MK-80 series bombs.
In a separate incident not mentioned during Wednesday’s exchange between Benjamin and Novakovic, munitions remnants from a 2018 Saudi-coaltion airstrike site in Yemen that killed 40 children and wounded dozens more contained “markings visible on a guidance fin for a GBU-12 Paveway II bomb [that] show it was produced at a General Dynamics Corporation facility in Garland, Texas.” Human Rights Watch said it could not confirm the remnants were found near the site, but that “the relative homogeneity of the fragments in thickness as well as condition, with no weathering or discoloration apparent, and the images of damage from the attack, are consistent with the detonation of a large impact-fuzed aerial bomb.”
And General Dynamics was in fact “involved,” as Benjamin put it, in Trump’s child separation policy, as a subsidiary of the company served “as a facilitator in aiding ‘unaccompanied minors’ illegally crossing the US-Mexico border, including children caught up in President Trump’s ‘zero tolerance’ policy of separating families.”
Also during the exchange, Novakovic said, “when you think about death and you think about destruction, we hope for peace, we pray for peace, we work for peace.” Yet just last week, she said that the potential of the world becoming more dangerous was producing a “nice cadence continuing in terms of our orders.”
The Center for International Policy issued a report this week which found that the economic calamities associated with the COVID-19 pandemic had no effect on compensation for the defense industry’s top five corporations, including General Dynamics, with these CEOs raking in more than a combined $150 million in 2020, and more than $1 billion since 2017.
A transcript of the exchange between Benjamin and Novakovic can be found here.