Jeremy Scahill published an excellent article on Monday contextualizing the imprisonment of Yemeni journalist Abdulelah Haider Shaye. Shaye had previously revealed the United States military's then-secret presence in Yemen in 2009, when he discovered pieces of Tomahawk missiles and cluster bombs at the site of what was supposedly an attack by the Yemeni government on an Al Qaeda training camp. The Pentagon refused to comment and the Yemeni government repeatedly denied the involvement of the U.S. Government. Later, Wikileaks would reveal internal e-mails of Yemeni officials where they joked about lying to their parliament about the United States' role in the attacks.
Shaye also made a name for himself by gaining interviews with members of Al Qaeda, including the last known interview with American citizen Anwar Al-Awaki (before he was assassinated without due process by a secret panel of decision makers and an Attorney General with nothing but contempt for constitutionality). Shaye, however, did not support Al Qaeda in any way; in fact, he was more than willing to criticize them, questioning Al-Awaki's support of the Fort Hood shooter, Maj. Nidal Hasan, as well as roundly condemning Al Qaeda in its methods and goals. “He is a very professional journalist,” said friend and dissident political cartoonist Kamal Sharaf. “He is rare in the journalistic environment in Yemen where 90 percent of journalists write extempore and lack credibility.” Shaye, he explains, is “very open-minded and rejects extremism. He was against violence and the killing of innocents in the name of Islam. He was also against killing innocent Muslims with pretext of fighting terrorism. In his opinion, the war on terror should have been fought culturally, not militarily. He believes using violence will create more violence and encourage the spread of more extremist currents in the region.”
In 2010, Shaye was abducted by armed Yemeni intelligence officers, put into a hood, and taken to an unknown location where he was reportedly beaten and told to end his criticism and investigation of the Yemeni and United States governments or he would be killed. On his release, Shaye went to Al-Jazeera to report on his capture — two months later, on August 6, 2010, both Shaye and Sharaf were forced from their homes and sent to secret prisons. Sharaf was released when he promised not to draw any more dissident cartoons. He maintains that the prisons they were sent to were set up by the United States as well as the regime of Saddam Hussein.
Shaye refused to give in to the government's demands. He was beaten and tortured and held in isolation for thirty-days. His family was not told of his location until another released prisoner informed them. Scahill writes:
On September 22, Shaye was eventually hauled into a court. Prosecutors asked for more time to prepare a case against him. A month later, in late October, he was locked in a cage in Yemen’s state security court, which was established by presidential decree and has been roundly denounced as illegal and unfair, as a judge read out a list of charges against him. 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.”
Shaye was convicted of the terrorism charges and sentenced to five years in prison with an additional two years of restricted movement and government surveillance. As one of the only journalists to interview members of Al Qaeda, and one of a small number of important dissident journalists in the region. Shaye had access to information that the Yemeni and U.S. governments did not want made public and he was silenced.
Pressure from international human rights groups and Yemeni tribal leaders led Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh to reconsider Shaye's imprisonment, and word leaked the day before that Saleh was going to pardon Shaye on February 2, 2011. That same day, Saleh received a personal phone call from President Obama, voicing his concerns over the impending release of Shaye. The pardon was rescinded.
How many times must the president use his power to suppress dissident opinion before we release he is now different than every other slimy power-mongering floor-sucker in Washington? What will it take for American liberalism to denounce the monster it has created and ignored? Where are all the indignant congress-persons (if mold can be given the status of personhood) and celebrities and self-righteous bumper stickers who decried Bush's extravagant violations of human rights? Guess what: you don't have to be a republican to destroy civil liberties and stuff your greedy face with the will of the people.