Yemeni Reporter Who Exposed U.S. Drone Strike Freed From Prison After Being Jailed At Obama’s Request

Prominent Yemeni journalist Abdulelah Haider Shaye has been released from prison after being held for three years on terrorism-related charges at the request of President Obama. Shaye helped expose the U.S. cruise missile attack on the Yemeni village of al-Majalah that killed 41 people, including 14 women and 21 children in December 2009. Then-Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh announced his intention to pardon Shaye in 2011, but apparently changed his mind after a phone call from Obama. In a statement, the White House now says it is "concerned and disappointed" by Shaye’s release. "We should let that statement set in: The White House is saying that they are disappointed and concerned that a Yemeni journalist has been released from a Yemeni prison," says Jeremy Scahill, national security correspondent for The Nation, who covers Shaye’s case in "Dirty Wars," his new book and film by the same name. "This is 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."

"Shaye’s release Tuesday reportedly comes in the form of a presidential pardon that requires him to remain in Sana’a for two years," explains Amy Goodman. "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."

"First of all, we should—we should let that statement set in," begins Jeremy Scahill. "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."

A full transcript of the discussion is available at Democracy Now!'s website.

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