In December 2009, US Tomahawk missiles pounded the Yemeni village of al-Majalah, killing 41 civilians. Then-President Ali Abdullah Saleh insisted the strike was by the Yemeni military, and that all of the victims (mostly women and children) were “terrorists.”
Journalist Abdulelah Haider Shaye was the first journalist on the ground to uncover the troops, revealing US cluster munitions were littering the ground at the site of the attack. In November 2010, WikiLeaks cables revealed the truth, exactly as Shaye reported, and Shaye was arrested almost immediately thereafter.
Shaye was charged with “assisting” terrorists on the grounds that his article revealed US culpability, hurting America’s ability to attack sites in Yemen and therefore theoretically aiding Yemeni militants.
Under intense pressure from human rights groups, Saleh sought to pardon Shaye in February 2011, but was warned against going so by President Obama. Today, Yemen’s President Hadi finally followed through, and after two and a half years of wrongful imprisonment, Shaye is free.
President Obama isn’t happy, and the State Department convey his “disappointment” at Yemen’s decision to free a journalist for the crime of telling the truth. Hardly a bastion of free speech, Yemen’s tepid defense of journalistic freedom was still more than the Obama Administration could take.