A prominent Yemeni journalist who was imprisoned for three years at the apparent request of the Obama administration has been released in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a. Abdulelah Haider Shaye was sentenced in January 2011 to five years in jail on terrorism-related charges, following a trial that was condemned by many human rights and press freedom groups. Shaye’s release Tuesday reportedly comes in the form of a presidential pardon that requires him to remain in Sana’a for two years. This could prevent him from traveling to the sites of U.S. drone strikes in Yemen, a topic he has previously reported on. Shaye was first imprisoned in 2010 after he helped expose the United States’ role in a 2009 cruise missile attack on the Yemeni village of al-Majalah that killed 41 people, including 14 women and 21 children. The Yemeni government initially took credit for the strike, saying it had targeted an al-Qaeda training camp. But it was later revealed through WikiLeaks cables that it was in fact a U.S. attack.
Rooj Alwazir talking:
We were expecting something to happen. President Hadi had come out in May, and he had a meeting with U.N. representatives and told them that he promises that Shaye will be coming out sometime before Ramadan, which is sometime before July. But speaking to many of the lawyers that had been working on the case, they’ve kind of—we’ve heard the rhetoric many, many times before, and President Hadi hasn’t really followed up on the timeline that he usually says. So, when we heard the news two days ago, it was a great surprise to many of us, and it was a great, exciting surprise.
Jeremy Scahill talking:
The White House is saying that they are disappointed and concerned that a Yemeni journalist has been released from a Yemeni prison. The White House is citing his conviction, that he supposedly was a supporter of al-Qaeda, in a kangaroo court, a court that was condemned by every major international media freedom organization, every major international human rights organization, that it was a total sham trial, where he was kept in a cage during the course of his prosecution and was convicted on trumped-up charges. So, Mr. Constitutional Law Professor President is saying that this Yemeni court, that has been condemned by every international human rights organization in the world, is somehow legitimate.
Secondly, when I’ve asked the White House and the State Department for a shred of evidence that Abdulelah Haider Shaye was guilty of anything other than journalism, critical journalism, they won’t provide it. They just say what they often do: “State secrets. Trust us.”
The fact is, Abdulelah Haider Shaye is a journalist who did very critical interviews with people like Anwar al-Awlaki. If you go back and you read his interviews with Awlaki, he’s challenging him on his praise of the underwear bomb attempt, saying, “But that was a plane full of civilians. How was that a legitimate target?” In fact, I would put forward that Abdulelah Haider Shaye asked more critical questions of figures within the al-Qaeda organization in Yemen than a single member of the “Caviar Correspondents Association” in the United States, those jokers who sit in the front row and pretend to play journalists on television.
This was a man who was put in prison because he had the audacity to expose a U.S. cruise missile attack that killed three dozen women and children. And the United States had tried to cover it up. They had the Yemeni government take responsibility for the strikes. The U.S. role was not initially owned. They said that they had blown up an al-Qaeda training camp. The reality was, women and children were killed. And why do we know that? We know it for two reasons. One is because Abdulelah Haider Shaye went to the scene, he took photographs of what were clearly U.S. cruise missile parts with “General Dynamics” on them, “Made in the United States” on them, and because of the WikiLeaks cables showing that General David Petraeus, who at the time was the CENTCOM commander, conspired with the Yemeni dictator, Ali Abdullah Saleh, for the United States to begin bombing Yemen in the form of drones and cruise—drone strikes and cruise missile strikes and to have the Yemeni government publicly take responsibility for it. So when Abdulelah Haider Shaye exposed this and it became clear to the world that the Obama administration was starting to bomb Yemen, he was abducted by Yemen’s U.S.-backed political security forces. He was taken to a jail and beaten and told that if he continued to report on the U.S. bombing campaign in Yemen, that he would be put back in jail. He went straight from his beating onto the airwaves of Al Jazeera and said, “I was just abducted by Yemen security forces, and they threatened me.” And then, some months later, his house was raided in a night raid, and he was snatched and disappeared for 30 days. He was then brought into a court that was set up specifically to prosecute journalists who had committed crimes against the U.S.-backed dictatorship and was sentenced to five years in that court.
So, my question for the White House would be: You want to co-sign a dictator’s arrest of a journalist, beating of a journalist, and conviction in a court that every human rights organization in the world has said was a sham court? That’s the side that the White House is on right now, not on the side of press freedom around the world. They’re on the side of locking up journalists who have the audacity to actually be journalists.
in fact, what I say right after that is that the one local journalist who had investigated the reporting—the bombing had disappeared.
You know, I mean, what I felt there when I was talking to those survivors is that the only Americans they will ever meet are cruise missiles, that took their—the lives of their family members. And, you know, being there with them and listening to this woman who had lost so many members of her family, and this tribal leader, Muqbal, who was there—he was spared from that attack only because he was running an errand that day, and he returned back to find his village completely blown up. And I talked to tribal leaders who went there within 24 hours of the strike, and they described a scene where livestock and humans—the flesh of livestock and humans was melted together, and they couldn’t determine if it was goats or sheep or human flesh, and they were trying to figure out how to even bury the dead. And, you know, we have video that’s extremely graphic of infants being pulled from rubble, you know, children. I mean, 21 children were killed in that attack, and 14 women. And they claimed it was an al-Qaeda strike, but then when the Yemeni Parliament went to investigate it, they determined that that was a total lie.
And why is it that the Obama administration has never had to publicly state why they killed 14 women and 21 children in the first strike that President Obama authorized? And, you know, cruise missiles are a devastating weapon, and cluster bombs, which are banned internationally—the United States is one of the only nations on earth that continues to use cluster bombs. These are like flying land mines that shred people into ground meat. That’s why the tribal leaders were saying, “We couldn’t tell if it was the flesh of goats or sheep or humans.” I mean, I’ve seen in Yugoslavia and elsewhere the aftermath of cluster bombs, but to use these on a Bedouin village—I mean, this White House should have to explain why that strike was in the interest of U.S. national security.
Shaye is convicted in this kangaroo court, and then, in February of 2011, the Saba News Agency, the official Yemen news agency, did a report saying that Ali Abdullah Saleh, the dictator of Yemen, was going to pardon Abdulelah Haider Shaye. You have to understand, at the time, there were posters put up all throughout the Yemeni capital demanding his freedom. There was huge tribal pressure. The human rights organization HOOD, which was representing him—huge pressure. Rooj and other activists, other people in Yemen, there was massive pressure on that dictatorship to release him. Everyone knew it was a sham, and everyone in Yemen knows about the bombing of al-Majalah. It is—you see postcards with it at demonstrations, demanding accountability from the United States. And he’s the guy who exposed it, so people knew who he was.
So, Ali Abdullah Saleh is in a postion where it was becoming politically untenable to hold him in prison. He says he’s going to pardon him. The Yemeni news agency releases this. That day, he gets a phone call from the White House.
This was in February of 2011. He gets a phone call from the White House, not from, you know, some undersecretary of who knows what, but from President Obama personally. And President Obama, according to the White House’s own read-out of that call, expresses concern about reports that they were going to release Abdulelah Haider Shaye. And just to give you a sense of what a client state Yemen was, the pardon then is ripped up, and he remained in prison then over the course of the next two years. And, in fact, the White House—President Hadi just left yesterday from Sana’a. He’s visiting the United States right now. Supposedly it was for medical reasons, but he’s now going to meet with President Obama. And I think it’s going to be very interesting to see what comes out of that. The White House is clearly very, very irked that Hadi released Abdulelah Haider Shaye.
look at this White House’s position on whistleblowers and on journalists. You had the seizure of the Associated Press phone records. You have record numbers of prosecutions and indictments under the Espionage Act. You have what I think amounts to a criminalization of independent reporting. This White House seems intent on having the only information that journalists have access to official leaks, when it is meant to make the White House look noble and saving the world for peace, freedom and democracy. And any independent reporting or talking to sources that are not official is frowned upon, and at times prosecuted.
There was a recent court decision that I think is very disturbing. James Risen of The New York Times has been ordered to testify against a source of his who was a whistleblower. You have Bradley Manning’s trial coming to conclusion. The charge against him of aiding the enemy boils down to an assertion that anyone who provides information on the Internet, that then can be read by a terrorist, is somehow aiding the enemy. They’re actually contending that Bradley Manning, in leaking the diplomatic cables, aided Osama bin Laden directly, because Osama bin Laden was reported to have read some of the WikiLeaks cables. If that charge sticks, it should be chilling not just for journalists, but for the public at large, in the day of social media, when everyone is a journalist of sorts.
So, this administration has been utterly shameful in its approach toward a free press, toward whistleblowers, and it fundamentally undermines the notion that we have a free press in a democratic society. The fact that they had a Yemeni journalist jailed in a Yemeni court and kept him in prison there and are now deeply concerned and upset that he’s been released speaks volumes about this administration’s attitude toward journalists.
Frank Gaffney is a notorious, discredited neocon. The fact that he was even testifying, you know, talks about the seriousness of that hearing. But let’s be clear here: The Republicans, during their administration, their sort of reign of terror, were Murder Incorporated, where torture was the official policy. They didn’t even—they didn’t pretend to act like it was some abomination that happened once in a while. They were killing people in massive numbers in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, all around the world. So the fact that these guys are now trying to say, “Well, the Obama administration, because he dismantled the interrogation program, is somehow less humane than we were,” is just a sick joke. I mean, the fact is that Obama continued many of the worst policies, on a counterterrorism level, that were built up under the Bush and Cheney administration. And these Republicans, they would love to be doing exactly what Obama is doing. They’re just attacking him because he’s Obama. But they love his so-called national security policy. At the end of the day, they’re being motivated more by their own partisan agenda. And it’s an attempt to argue—and it’s an insidious argument—that torture is actually a policy that the United States should fully embrace once again. That’s what they’re trying to do here. But they quietly love the Obama administration’s drone policy and counterterrorism policy.
— source democracynow.org
Jeremy Scahill, producer and writer of the documentary film Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield. He is also the author of the new book by the same name. Jeremy Scahill is the national security correspondent for The Nation, author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army.
Rooj Alwazir, Yemeni-American activist who co-founded the Support Yemen media collective based in Sana’a, Yemen. She helped campaign for Abdulelah Haider Shaye’s release and is currently working on a documentary on drone wars.