Yemen Releases Journalist Obama Tried to Keep Behind Bars

By:  Michael Tennant
Yemen Releases Journalist Obama Tried to Keep Behind Bars

Yemen’s president pardoned a journalist whom Obama kept from being pardoned in 2011 for reporting the truth about a US attack on Yemeni civilians.

In an embarrassing turn of events for the Obama administration, the president of Yemen freed a wrongly imprisoned Yemeni journalist whom President Barack Obama “once personally lobbied to have remain in jail,” according to McClatchy Newspapers.

On July 23, Yemeni president Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi fulfilled a longstanding pledge to pardon Abdulelah Haider Shaye, a renowned journalist who was arrested twice in 2010 — once being held in solitary confinement for 34 days with no access to an attorney — and eventually, in 2011, convicted by a kangaroo court and sentenced to five years in prison.

After a public outcry about Shaye’s conviction, then-Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh was prepared to pardon the journalist.

“Some prominent Yemenis and tribal sheikhs visited the president to mediate in the issue and the president agreed to release and pardon him,” Abdulrahman Barman, Shaye’s attorney, told the Nation’s Jeremy Scahill. “We were waiting for the release of the pardon — it was printed out and prepared in a file for the president to sign and announce the next day.”

Before Saleh could affix his John Hancock to the pardon, however, he received an urgent telephone call from the president of the United States. According to a White House summary of the conversation, Obama “expressed concern over the release of” Shaye because of his alleged “association with AQAP [Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula].”

Shaye did, in fact, have much greater access to AQAP leaders than most other journalists, but he did not use those connections to further AQAP’s cause. He used them to report on the group and, at times, to challenge their assertions.

“He was against violence and the killing of innocents in the name of Islam,” Shaye’s best friend, Kamal Sharaf, told Scahill. “He was also against killing innocent Muslims with pretext of fighting terrorism.”

That seems to be what got Obama’s dander up. Shaye had the temerity to report the truth about a December 2009 missile strike on a Yemeni village that made both the U.S. and Yemeni governments look very bad indeed. Scahill recounted:

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