According to a report by Jeremy Scahill in The Nation, on February 2 of this year, President Obama called Yemeni President Abdullah to “express concern” about the potential release of journalist Abdulelah Haider Shaye from prison.
Shaye is a Yemeni journalist who has done a lot of reporting on America’s War on Terror, and on Al Qaeda itself. He has interviewed Al Qaeda leaders, even some that America had been hunting.
And his reporting has embarrassed the United States.
Glenn Greenwald explains the background story:
[O]n December 17, 2009, President Obama ordered an air attack — using Tomahawk cruise missiles and cluster bombs — on the village of al Majala in Yemen’s southern Abyan province; the strike ended the lives of 14 women and 21 children. At the time, the Yemeni government outright lied about the attack, falsely claiming that it was Yemen’s air force which was responsible.
Shaye was the first journalist to go to the site of the attack. According to Scahill, it was Shaye who took photographs proving that it was the United States, not Yemen that conducted the assault. And it was Shaye’s work that proved that it wasn’t “34 militants” who were killed, as the New York Times reported, but women and children.
The truth of Shaye’s reporting was confirmed when WikiLeaks’ released diplomatic cables showing U.S. and Yemeni officials joking about Yemen taking responsibility for the attack.
Shaye was harassed by Yemeni Intelligence the next year and eventually arrested in a raid.
Here are the details from Scahill’s report:
He was accused of being the “media man” for Al Qaeda, recruiting new operatives for the group and providing Al Qaeda with photos of Yemeni bases and foreign embassies for potential targeting. “The government filed many charges against him,” says Barman. “Some of these charges were: joining an armed group aiming to target the stability and security of the country, inciting Al Qaeda members to assassinate President Ali Abdullah Saleh and his son, recruiting new Al Qaeda members, working as propagandist for Al Qaeda and Anwar Al-Awlaki in particular. Most of these charges carry the death sentence under Yemeni law.” As the charges against him were read, according to journalist Iona Craig, a longtime foreign correspondent based in Yemen who reports regularly for the Times of London, Shaye “paced slowly around the white cell, smiling and shaking his head in disbelief.”
Human Rights Watch and the International Federation of Journalists have variously condemned Shaye’s subsequent trial as a sham, and demanded his release Shaye was sentenced to five years in prison and two years of monitored surveillance afterward.
Lots of prominent tribal leaders in Yemen have pressured the government for his release. But Obama personally put a stop to that, according to Scahill.
Word of the impending pardon leaked in the Yemeni press. “That same day,” Barman says, “the president [Saleh] received a phone call from Obama expressing US concerns over the release of Abdulelah Haider.” Saleh rescinded the pardon.
There you have it. The White House refused to give Scahill any evidence that Shaye represented a danger.
Without that is is impossible to conclude anything other than that Shaye’s journalistic exploits, which revealed the embarrassing truth about an American attack in Yemen, are the sole reason for his continued imprisonment.
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