Nation & World

U.S. won’t criticize Yemen over ouster of American journalist, says it had no warning

The State Department said Tuesday that it was not told in advance that Yemen planned to expel McClatchy contributor Adam Baron and that once U.S. diplomats learned he was to be deported, they’d attempted to offer him consular assistance. Baron, however, had already left the country.

It was unclear, however, whether the United States would raise Baron’s expulsion with Yemen. “We do not typically engage governments on their specific entry/deportation policies,” a State Department official wrote in an email. The official commented only on the condition of anonymity as per the department’s protocol.

Baron flew from Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, to Cairo on Thursday, two days after being summoned to an immigration office and told that he was no longer welcome in Yemen. No further explanation was offered.

Baron, who also contributes to the Christian Science Monitor and other publications, was a rare resident foreign journalist in Sanaa, covering, and uncovering, details of Yemen’s U.S.-assisted struggle against al Qaida-aligned extremists.

Last summer, Baron’s reporting for McClatchy angered Obama administration officials by revealing that the United States had intercepted a communication between al Qaida leader Ayman al Zawahiri and al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula leader Nasir al Wuhayshi, leading to a U.S. decision to temporarily close diplomatic facilities in 21 countries. U.S. officials had revealed that detail to reporters for The New York Times but had asked that it be kept secret, a request The Times agreed to. Baron, however, learned the same information in Sanaa, where it was widely known.

In his most recent dispatch, published by the Christian Science Monitor three days before he was expelled, Baron noted that the spread of Twitter and other social media had made it difficult for the Yemeni government to misrepresent the results of drone strikes and other fighting.

“Last December, an airstrike targeted a wedding convoy, killing roughly a dozen civilians,” he wrote. “The government initially identified the casualties as militants, but locals soon began posting photos of the dead on Facebook and tweeting the names of victims, directly challenging the government’s obfuscation.”

Baron’s expulsion came during a week in which the United States announced that it was closing its Sanaa embassy to the public. The U.S. offered no reason for the closure, which came during an offensive by Yemeni government troops against al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula in southern Yemen. This week, U.S. government officials acknowledged that two Americans had shot and killed two armed Yemenis who had tried to kidnap them while the Americans were in a barbershop in Sanaa on April 24. The two Americans left the country after the killings.

Despite the U.S. involvement in Yemen’s war against al Qaida _ U.S. drones have been fired on Yemen 12 times this year, most recently on Monday _ Baron was the only resident American journalist covering the war. The Committee to Protect Journalists in New York last week said it was concerned about the Yemeni decision to expel Baron and to deny entry to another American, Tik Root, a freelance journalist who’s contributed to Time, The Economist and Foreign Policy.

“We urge the government to allow Tik Root and Adam Baron, along with all journalists, to enter and report freely,” said the CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator, Sherif Mansour.

The U.S. government’s record on press freedom in Yemen is mixed. Last July, the White House said it was “concerned and disappointed” that Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Hadi had ordered the release of Yemeni journalist Abdulelah Haider Shaye, who’d been sentenced to prison for alleged contacts with al Qaida. Shaye was the first journalist to report that a December 2009 bombing in the village of Majalla in the southern province of Abyan was an American cruise-missile attack that killed dozens of civilians, including 14 women and 21 children.

Shaye was jailed shortly after his report, outraging international human rights groups, who demanded his release, something then-Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh was reported to be considering in late 2010. But Saleh dropped the idea after President Barack Obama in February 2011 personally lobbied him in a phone call against doing so.

Mark Seibel of the Washington Bureau contributed to this report.

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