Russian Media Blames U.S. for Snowden Affair

Edward Snowden, continuing his confounding dance around the expectations of the international media, won't be leaving the Moscow airport after all. In a confusing series of developments, Wednesday began with the news that Snowden had been issued the preliminary document that would allow him to leave Sheremetyevo airport. Then, his lawyer denied that he would be imminently departing. For now, he appears to be staying put. The Russian media, meanwhile, is having a field day with the spectacle, gleefully blaming the United States for the entire debacle.

With the United States insisting that Russia extradite Snowden to the United States, officials in Moscow blanketed the Russian press with allegations that they would be willing to play along -- if only the United States lived up to its own obligations. "I would not want to put our American partners in an uncomfortable position, but if they say such things, and we are forced to publicly say that it is Washington in the past categorically rejected numerous Russian proposals to conclude an extradition treaty," a source in the Russian foreign ministry told the Interfax news agency.

The new line, then, from Moscow is that it is in fact the United States' fault that Russia is unable to extradite Snowden. If only the United States had been more willing to entertain Russian extradition requests, they lament, Russia would not find itself in the regrettable position of having to shelter Snowden. "Law agencies asked the US on many occasions to extradite wanted criminals through Interpol channels, but those requests were neither met nor even responded to," a spokesman for the Russian Interior Ministry said Monday.

Meanwhile, one of the Russian state-owned news agencies, ITAR-TASS, is quick to remind its readers that Russians are broadly supportive of allowing Snowden to stay. Reporting on Snowden staying at Sheremetyevo, the agency comments that "the U.S. government keeps insisting on Snowden's extradition" despite the fact that "most Russians think that Moscow should not extradite Snowden to the United States." The agency cites a July 14 poll finding that 39 percent of Russians oppose extradition and that 27 percent think he should be granted asylum. Surprisingly, 59 percent of the poll's respondents don't know who Snowden is.

By the looks of it, Snowden may be gearing up for a longer stay in Russia. "He is not planning to leave for now. He asked for temporary asylum, which in the case of a positive decision is granted for a term of one year," Snowden's lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, said Wednesday. "Currently his final country of destination is Russia." To prepare him for an extended stay, Kucharena brought his client some Russia-appropriate reading, including Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment and works by Chekhov.

As if the Snowden saga wasn't bizarre enough already, Kucharena said he had chosen Crime and Punishment because he thought it crucial Snowden become acquainted with the novel's central character, Raskolnikov. That character, of course, murders a pawnbroker in the belief that he transcends ordinary standards of morality in the service of a greater good. By the novel's end, Raskolnikov loses his mind and ends up in a Siberian penal colony. Is this the future Kucharena imagines for his client?

Judging by the interview below with Kucharena on RT, he looks to have a sense of humor. Perhaps it's all an elaborate joke.

Keep watching this space for the next time Snowden becomes compared to one of the great sociopathic characters of Russian literature.



U.S. 'Concerned and Disappointed' by Release of Yemeni Journalist

News broke yesterday afternoon that, after a nearly three-year-long imprisonment, Yemeni journalist Abdulelah Haider Shaye had been released by the Yemeni government. Shaye's work drew international attention in 2009 when he reported on a U.S. airstrike in the Yemeni village of al-Majalla that killed 41 civilians. He also conducted multiple interviews with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.

U.S. officials, including the U.S. ambassador to Yemen, have told journalists that Shaye facilitated AQAP attacks, but his accounts of his arrest detail press intimidation by the Yemeni government, then still headed by Ali Abdullah Saleh, who resigned amid mass protests in November 2011. Shaye's five-year prison sentence has drawn criticism from Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the International Federation of Journalists, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and the Yemen-based Freedom Foundation.

The U.S. government is still concerned about Shaye. Bernadette Meehan, a spokesperson for the National Security Council, told FP this morning by email, "We are concerned and disappointed by the early release of Abd-Ilah al-Shai, who was sentenced by a Yemeni court to five years in prison for his involvement with Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula." Meehan did not comment on whether the United States advocated against his release.

President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi first floated plans to release Shaye in May. We wrote at the time:

This is not the first time that Shaye's release has been considered. In fact, soon after his 2011 trial, Shaye's release seemed imminent. "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," Shaye's lawyer, Abdulrahman Barman, told Jeremy Scahill in his new book, Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield. But that plan fell through after a Feb. 2 phone call between then-President Ali Abdullah Saleh and President Barack Obama, in which Obama "expressed concern over the release of [Shaye], who had been sentenced to five years in prison for his association with AQAP," according to a readout of the call released by the White House.

The White House's position hasn't changed in the ensuing two years. "We remain concerned about al-Shai's potential early release due to his association with Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula," National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden told FP by email on Wednesday....

In July 2010, the Yemeni government arrested and beat Shaye, and interrogators told him, "We will destroy your life if you keep on talking," according to Scahill's account. Shaye was arrested a month later, beaten again, held in solitary confinement for 34 days without access to a lawyer, and then rushed through a trial on charges that included recruiting and propagandizing for AQAP and encouraging the assassination of President Saleh and his son. By the time Obama intervened in Shaye's pardon in 2011, protesters had begun filling city streets calling for the end of Saleh's three-decade presidency; Saleh resigned in November 2011, and since then his vice president, Hadi, has governed as part of what is slated to be a two-year period of reform and transition.

The U.S. government's case against Shaye is unclear. U.S. Ambassador to Yemen Gerald Feierstein told Craig in February 2012 that "Shaye is in jail because he was facilitating al Qaeda and its planning for attacks on Americans," but did not elaborate. Before Shaye's arrest, an U.S. intelligence official, who told Scahill that he "was persuaded that [Shaye] was an agent," discouraged journalists from working with Shaye on account of "'classified evidence' indicat[ing] that Shaye was 'cooperating' with al Qaeda."

Scahill posted this picture of Shaye's release to Twitter yesterday:

Scahill also reported that Shaye's pardon comes on the condition that he not leave the Yemeni capital of Sanaa for the next two years -- the remainder of his prison sentence -- at which time his case will be reviewed.