Abdulelah Haider Shaye is a journalist in the Middle East that has gone to great lengths to cover terrorism and even risked his life to interview members of al Qaeda and other militant groups. He would travel around and embed himself in terrorist hot spots so he could interview them and bring their stories to the rest of us. He was also the last known person to interview Anwar Al Awlaki, the US citizen who was killed by a drone strike overseas.
Back in 2011 he was arrested and sentenced to 5 years prison time for a suspected connection to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. He had a trial and was convicted even though there were heavy protests against his arrest to begin with. Fortunately for him the President of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh, heard the protestors pleas for his release and had a formal pardon drafted that he was getting ready to sign until a phone call from President Obama changed everything.
Shaye had been in Yemen covering the airstrikes against al Qaeda militants in the Southern Abyan province thet government there had claimed it had done. While there he noticed pieces of Tomahawk cruise missiles and cluster bombs, neither of which the Yemeni government had ever used or even possessed. So he photographed the parts, some of which had the iconic “Made In USA” label affixed to them, and sent them to the media around the world. Included with the pictures were his reports that women, elderly people and children were among the dead from the strikes. The exact numbers were 14 women and 21 children, and there was never any confirmation that anybody from the terrorist organization was actually killed. Through his own investigation he was able to determine that it was a US strike on the area even though the Yemeni government denied US involvement and the Pentagon wouldn’t comment on it, however later on his assertion would be proven when a Wikileaks document dump revealed a cable between the US and Yemeni governments talking about the strikes.
In July of 2010 Shaye would be abducted by armed men outside of a convenience store while his friend looked on. Yemeni intelligence agents hooded him, forced him into a vehicle and took him away where they would interrogate then threaten him if he continued to speak out about the two governments. One of the agents told him they would destroy his life if he continued to talk. He replied to the abduction by appearing on al Jazeera TV and telling the story of his abduction.
Later on in August special forces would show up at both Shaye’s and his friend, political cartoonist Kamal Sharif and demnded they both come out. Sharif complied and they took him to a national security prison however Shaye refused and the men raided his home then beat him badly enough to break a tooth, then forced him to go with them anyways. Sharif described the men as “tall and heavy” and said they were wearing American militray type uniforms and had lasers affixed to their weapons, indicating they were a counter-terrorism unit.
Shaye would be held for 35 days in solitary confinement all the while being told he had been deserted by his family and friends. In September he was finally given a trial, however prosecutors asked for more time to prepare a case which would end up being tried at Yemen’s illegal state security court. He would be held in a cage inside the court and have charges levied against him for his journalism, he said in front of the court that all of his correspondence with other news agencies were turned into accusations against him and that they were trying to silence him from speaking the truth. He was convicted of terrorism related charges on very little evidence, according to his lawyers, which sparked an outrage from human rights groups around the world.
“There are strong indications that the charges against [Shaye] are trumped up and that he has been jailed solely for daring to speak out about US collaboration in a cluster munitions attack which took place in Yemen,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
It was because of these outcries and the pressure from tribal leaders in Yemen that the president decided to pardon Shaye. However it was a single phone call from President Obama that prevented his release. When Obama called the Yemeni president, he expressed concern about Shaye’s supposed ties to al Qaeda and requested he not be released and the Yemeni president complied with his request.
Shaye is still being held prisoner in Yemen for simply finding out the truth and reporting it, it’s unfortunate for him the truth just happened to be bad for this administration.