Democracy Now on the imprisoned Yemeni journalist

Must-watch TV on a story that should be a scandal, plus: the revealing defenses of Obama in this case

Published March 15, 2012 1:39PM (EDT)

(updated below)

It's very rare that I write primarily for the purpose of posting a video, but I'm going to make an exception today for this truly compelling, must-watch Democracy Now segment on the Jeremy Scahill article about imprisoned Yemeni journalist Abdulelah Haider Shaye which I wrote about yesterday. This is political television as good as it gets: it not only has an in-depth discussion of Obama's central role in Shaye's imprisonment with Scahill and Mohamed Abdel Dayem of the Committee to Protect Journalists, but it also contains substantial video footage of the interviews in Yemen which Scahill conducted to write this story. I'm posting this segment below because I don't think there's anything I can write today that will be a better use of your time than this: if you can find 30 minutes or so to watch this segment, I assure you it will be time very well spent.

The one thing I will note is this truly amazing and indescribably revealing defense of President Obama on this story from Mother Jones's Kevin Drum. Drum simplistically posits that there are only two choices -- you either (1) believe that the imprisoned journalist really is an Al Qaeda member or (2) believe that Obama is a "muderous sociopath" -- and since Kevin simply does not believe that the good, kind, noble President Obama would ever want a journalist imprisoned unless he believed he really were really a Terrorist, he's willing to disregard all of the evidence Scahill gathered in Yemen, as well as the consensus of human rights groups and journalist associations that he was engaged in pure journalism, and simply believe -- with zero evidence -- that Shaye is a Terrorist. Read it for yourself:

So what kind of person would pressure the Yemeni president to keep an innocent journalist in prison over a slight so tiny as to be nearly nonexistent? Almost literally, this would be the act of a sociopath. . . . But which do I find more likely? That Shaye is indeed affiliated with al-Qaeda based on evidence that hasn't been made public? Or that Barack Obama is a sociopath who pressures foreign leaders to keep innocent journalists in prison based on the fact that they very slightly annoy him? Call me what you will, but I have to go with Door A.

My reply to Drum in his comment section is here, and Scahill's multiple replies to Drum on Twitter are here, but Drum's defense really speaks for, and negates, itself. Needless to say, the people who wake up every day literally with no purpose or political argument other than to glorify the Great President and highlight the flaws of his adversaries and critics -- literally as in: their political worldview finds no expression beyond the adolescent, simple-minded tribal cry of Democrats Good, Republicans Bad! -- immediately embraced Drum's defense. What's so remarkable is that none of these people ever even heard of this story before yesterday -- they had no idea who Abdulelah Haider Shaye was until Scahill's article -- but (even while expressly admitting their ignorance) they're willing to speculate, without seeing a whiff of evidence, that this person whom 24 hours ago they did not know even existed is a Terrorist and Al Qaeda member ("Shaye is indeed affiliated with al-Qaeda based on evidence that hasn’t been made public") because the alternative is unthinkable to them (namely, that Obama -- the perpetrator of the ongoing, unprecedented war on whistleblowers -- wants to punish a journalist for disclosing facts the U.S. Government wants suppressed and prevent future disclsoures: that just cannot be!). After all, Obama, a Really Good Guy, wants Shaye imprisoned: isn't that, by itself, a pretty compelling sign that Shaye is a Really Bad Guy?

It's the Awlaki assassaination all over again, and it's the crux of authoritarianism everywhere it's found in the world: if President Obama wants someone punished or killed as a Terrorist, I'm willing to believe the person must be a Terrorist and don't need to see any evidence of it because I know my Leader is Good and I trust him. As Digby recently observed, after posting a great Tom Tomorrow cartoon on the willingness of progressives like this to accept and defend these absues from Obama: "The fact is that deep down, many Americans really want to be subjects." They just want their benevolent tyrant to be a sophisticated, East Coast-sounding, eloquent orator -- just like conservatives wanted theirs to be a swaggering, evangelical Christian cowboy -- because those tribal familiarities ensure that your leader will be exempt from the universal corruption of vast emperor-like powers exercised in the dark (I want this person assassinated; I want this person imprisoned; I will not account to anyone for my decrees, etc.). I can't tell you how many times during the Bush years I heard this from conservatives: you're paranoid if you think Bush would do evil things because he's a good man. As Scahill summarized this mindset last night: "Trust But Don't Verify. Don't Question Authority. Speak Power to Truth."

Just behold the mountains of evidence assembled in Yemen by Scahill -- regarding who Shaye actually is (a journalist), what the motives are behind his imprisonment, and what has happened here -- that they are not just eager, but willing and proud, to ignore, solely because to acknowledge this evidence would mean that their leader has done something terribly wrong. And that simply cannot be. Reality-based indeed:

[If you're having trouble viewing the segment here, you can watch it here at Democracy Now's site; a transcript will be posted later today, though the video is really worth seeing]

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Two other related points: (1) here, from BoingBoing, is a new government pamphlet containing vital information for every citizen, and (2) here, from The Onion, is an excellent two-minute TV debate on this question: "Could The Use Of Flying Death Robots Be Hurting America's Reputation Worldwide?"


UPDATE: Drum's Mother Jones colleague, Adam Serwer, has an excellent reply to Drum:

Drum's rhetorical question here (is Obama a sociopath?) is one I find frustrating because it essentially turns a policy issue into a matter of trusting Barack Obama. Instead of questioning the approach to Shaye's detention, we're invited to consider whether this fine fellow, Barack Obama, is a murderer. And if you voted for the guy, your immediate reaction is likely to be, "Well of course not!"

Except that's really a silly way to look at it . . . .

What we have here is really the central problem of national security in the post-9/11 era: Are the people the government says are terrorists, the people the US government asserts the right to detain indefinitely the people our government asserts the right to kill far from any declared battlefield, actually guilty? Unfortunately when it comes to terrorism, it can be difficult to ascertain, let alone prove, culpability.

When considering the overarching question, the least appropriate option I think, is simply assuming the government has justifiable reasons for its actions. . .

Institutions tend to do what they can get away with, a tendency that can become ever-more problematic when they can do so under cover of official secrecy. 

The response to the government declaring someone a terrorist should be, "prove it." A sham trial by a US client regime propped up by US aid offered because of war on terror expediency doesn't cut it.

No matter how I long I live, I believe I will never understand the difficulty people have -- more accurately: the refusal -- to accept the truth of those bolded statements.

By Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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