Obama vs. Abdulelah Haider Shaye

Part of the transcript of recent speaking event featuring Noam Chomsky, Amy Goodman, and Jeremy Scahill (on the occasion of the publication of Scahill’s book DIRTY WARS)

JEREMY SCAHILL: Just a couple of things in response to that. I was remembering, when you were talking about David Hicks’ story, this case that I came across in Yemen of a journalist named Abdulelah Haider Shaye. When President Obama first authorized the bombing of Yemen was in December of 2009. The first strike that we know of authorized under the Obama administration was on December 17th, 2009, in Yemen. There hadn’t been a bombing, a U.S. bombing, there, that we know of, since November of 2002. The first drone strike, actually, that was conducted outside of Afghanistan was in Yemen in 2002, and it killed a number of people, including a U.S. citizen named Kemal Derwish. And he actually was not — was not supposedly the target of that strike, but they claimed that he had ties to a terror cell called the Lackawanna Six, which, like many of the plots we’ve seen lately, seemed to have been the — in large part, the FBI breaking up its own plot, and which is really scandalous if you look at how many times this has happened and all these cases of entrapment.

But so, President Obama starts — decides to start bombing Yemen in December of 2009. They do this strike on what they are told by the Yemeni government and by U.S. intelligence is an al-Qaeda training camp and that there is this notorious al-Qaeda figure who’s known to be in the camp. Well, it turned out that this guy, when we investigated it and went to Yemen and spoke to people that knew him and knew the infrastructure of AQAP, that he was an old jihadist who had fought in the mujahideen war in Afghanistan and had a very peripheral connection to al-Qaeda. So it seems like what happened is that, you know, the U.S. outsources a lot of its intelligence gathering in Yemen to notoriously corrupt Yemeni officials and agencies and to the Saudis, and the Saudis have their own war that they’re waging inside of Yemen. The U.S.-backed dictatorship of Ali Abdullah Saleh was playing multiple sides — playing the Saudis, playing the U.S., playing various tribes inside the country. There were several occasions when Saleh fed the U.S. intelligence saying someone was al-Qaeda, and it turned out to being a political opponent of the regime that was being killed or assassinated by the U.S. on behalf, in the service of the dictator of Yemen.

And so, in this case, on December 17th, 2009, they bomb this village, supposedly to kill this one guy, who does not seem to have been anything even vaguely resembling a senior al-Qaeda figure in the country. And after the missile strike happens, the Yemeni government puts out a press release taking credit for the strike, saying it had conducted these air strikes. And the Obama administration congratulated the Yemeni government on taking the fight to the terrorists in Yemen.

A number of tribal leaders in Yemen got phone calls from this small, poor Bedouin village called al-Majalah that these missiles had slammed into the area and had shredded people into meat. And these tribal leaders went there, and also a young — this young journalist, Abdulelah Haider Shaye, who had done reporting and work for The Washington Post, for ABC News, for Al Jazeera. He was a very, very well-known journalist in Yemen. And he was known because he was a brave guy who would go and actually interview al-Qaeda figures. Much of what the United States knows about certain leaders in al-Qaeda comes from the reporting of Abdulelah Haider Shaye. You could look at one way and say he was a very valuable guy to have out talking to these people, because it helped the U.S. intelligence officials understand or operatives understand who it was they were supposedly trying to kill. But that’s for a different story.

So this guy goes there. These tribal leaders go there. And they take photographs of the missile parts. And they then show them, broadcast them on Al Jazeera and other outlets, and share them with Amnesty International. And Amnesty International has a weapons expert come in and analyze them, and they determined that they were — that it was a cruise missile attack. And when Rick and I were in Abyan province, we had the parts filmed. They’re still there in the desert, by the way. You can go — if you want to try to go to al-Majalah, you can go there, and they’re still in the middle of the desert, with “General Dynamics” and “Made in the U.S.A.” right there, visible, and we show this in our film. We show the aftermath of this bombing and the missile parts that were still there, you know, well after the bombs had dropped.

But the U.S. also — but the other bombs that they found there were cluster bombs, which of course are banned under international conventions. And the cluster bombs are basically — I saw the effect of them when the U.S. was using them in the Kosovo War in 1999. I went to the Nis marketplace after it was bombed in Serbia and saw the aftermath of it. They’re like flying land mines, and they shred everything in its path into meat and limbs. And it is horrifying to see the aftermath of any bombing, but cluster bombs are a particularly brutal weapon. And there were unexploded cluster bombs that were left there, and after the bombing had taken place, some children were playing near a cluster bomb and picked one of them up, and it blew them to pieces, two days after the bombing had happened.

So they take these pictures. They send them to Amnesty International. And these sheikhs, tribal sheikhs, organized a gathering to say that this is not the Yemeni government that did this, because Yemen doesn’t have these missiles. Amnesty does an analysis of them and determines that they were in fact U.S. weapons and that only the United States could have been responsible for that bombing.

And so, this sort of scandal was brewing inside of Yemen because the people who were killed there — there were at least 46 people killed. Fourteen of the people killed were women, and 21 were children. When the Yemeni Parliament, which is a — which is supported by the United States, went to investigate it, they listed all of the dead — their ages, their names, their genders — and I got a copy of that report and have the list of every single person that we know of that was killed in that strike. And we added it up, and it was 14 women and 21 children among the 46 dead, and in the pursuit of trying to kill this one person who the president of the United States had been told was this high-value target, who everyone in Yemen says was an older mujahideen who had primarily done his jihad in Afghanistan and not inside of Yemen.

When this started to become public, this Yemeni journalist was going on Al Jazeera and was helping other U.S. media outlets report that story, that it was in fact a U.S. strike. U.S. officials were denying it, and eventually then anonymously said, “Yes, we were behind the strike,” but General David Petraeus said that no civilians were actually killed in the strike and that it’s all a big exaggeration, which was very offensive to Yemenis of all political stripes. And so, it was an enduring scandal.

And this one journalist was really pushing this story, and he continued to report on other — on the expanding U.S. air war in Yemen. And one night, in the middle of the night, he was — in the middle of the day, he was out with a friend of his who was a political cartoonist, and they were shopping, and he was snatched by U.S.-backed, U.S.-trained counterterrorism forces in Sana’a, the capital of Yemen, and was taken to the political security prison and was beaten bloody by the security services and told that he was to stop talking about the missile strikes. And then they released him onto the streets. And what this journalist did was to go straight to Al Jazeera and say, “I was just beaten by the political security officers, and they’re trying to stop me from talking about the U.S. missile strikes that are happening in the country.”

And soon after he did that, his house was raided by the CTU, the counterterrorism unit, which is a JSOC- and CIA-trained entity. And they snatched him out of his home and disappeared him for 30 days. And no one knew where he was. And then they hauled him into a court that had been specifically set up by the dictatorship to prosecute journalists for crimes against the state, and was ultimately convicted of being an al-Qaeda facilitator, because he facilitated al-Qaeda members being able to speak to the media, and which — I’ve talked to people in U.S. intelligence who actually also believe that this case is outrageous, because they said, “You took off the streets one of the best reporters that we would read so we could actually understand what was going on in Yemen, because of the notorious corruption of all of the informants.”

So he is put into this prison. He’s put on trial, total sham trial. His lawyers refuse to present a defense. No lawyer would represent him, at his own request, because he said, “I don’t want to recognize a shred of legitimacy of this process.” And we have video of him when he is in prison. They bring him in front of the — into the courtroom in a cell. They have him in a cage in a cell. And as they’re pulling him away, he said, “My crime is exposing the American missile attack on the tiny Bedouin village of al-Majalah in Abyan province. They’re putting me in jail because I exposed their cruise missile attack.” And he said, “This is what happens when Yemeni journalists are real journalists,” and they pull him away, and they disappear him into this prison.

There was so much outrage in Yemen, from his tribe and from human rights organizations and from mainstream civil society in Yemen, that the dictator, Ali Abdullah Saleh, had no choice but to issue a pardon against Abdulelah Haider Shaye. This happens a lot in Yemen. Someone gets arrests, the tribes protest, and then the person is released. It’s a whole — it’s a game that’s been playing out in that country for a long time. So, he’s going to issue a pardon, and the official news service, the Saba News Agency, does a report saying that this journalist is going to be pardoned.

That day, the dictator of Yemen receives a phone call from the White House — not from some liaison, not from secretary of state — from President Obama himself, personally. And President Obama tells the dictator of Yemen that he’s deeply concerned about news that Abdulelah Haider Shaye is going to be released. And the pardon is torn up. And lest you think I’m making this up or I’ve just heard it secondhand, I know this because the White House put it on their own website in a read-out of the phone call from that day. And when I called the State Department to ask them — this is a year-and-a-half after Abdulelah Haider had been in prison since this phone call — “What is the U.S. State Department’s position on Abdulelah Haider Shaye?” they said, “Our position remains the same as that articulated by President Obama in that phone call. We believe he should be kept in prison.” So this journalist is in prison because of the president of the United States making a phone call and having his pardon ripped up.

And he is not doing well in prison. I’m in touch with his family. He is — my understanding is that he’s losing — he’s starting to lose his mind, which is very common with people that are kept in solitary confinement or in these conditions.

And none of news organizations that worked with him in the U.S. — ABC News, Washington Post and — none of them have said anything about his case. Where are they? When he’s getting them sensationalist footage, when he interviewed Anwar al-Awlaki, they all wanted to broadcast his comments about Nidal Hasan, you know, who conducted the massacre at Fort Hood, Texas. And they wanted to ask — they wanted to know what Awlaki said about the underwear bomber. You know why we know what Awlaki thought about that? Because Abdulelah Haider Shaye found him, interviewed him and published it in The Washington Post, on NBC. And yet, when he’s in prison, they say nothing. It’s shameful. It’s shameful.

And that’s often what happens in these cases. Journalists — journalists, like myself and others, we go into these countries. And, you know, I encourage people to read the acknowledgments in my book, because I tell you — I name the names of all of the journalists in Yemen and Somalia and Afghanistan and elsewhere around the world who made it possible for this story to be told. And they’re the real heroes of this. Unfamous journalists, who report oftentimes not in English, take the great risks. People like me, I go in, and I can go somewhere for a few weeks or a month, and I depend on them to be able to tell these stories. And so, when something happens to one of our colleagues — Somalia, journalists are being gunned down in record numbers; in Yemen, journalists are being thrown in prison — if we don’t speak up when we have a platform and defend our colleagues, we should be ashamed of ourselves, and we should be ashamed to call ourselves journalists.

Notes:

The Truth About America’s Secret, Dirty Wars
Noam Chomsky, Amy Goodman, and Jeremy Scahill
Harvard University, April 27, 2013: http://chomsky.info/talks/20130516.htm

“Readout of President’s Call with President Saleh of Yemen”. The White House. Retrieved 2012-03-16.

Yemeni Reporter Who Exposed U.S. Drone Strike Freed from Prison After Jailing at Obama’s Request: http://www.democracynow.org/2013/7/25/yemeni_reporter_who_exposed_us_drone

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