Some things never change. After holding them in prison for only two years, including time served awaiting trial, the Yemeni government is releasing Saddam Hussein al-Rimi and Rami Hermel Hans. Al-Rimi and Hans, who is originally from Germany, were convicted of carrying out terrorist attacks on behalf of al-Qaeda, one of which was a bombing that resulted in the deaths of eight Spanish tourists in 2007.
This is standard operating procedure for the Yemeni government. Nearly every arrest of al-Qaeda members in Yemen has been followed by either a quiet release or a prison escape on a scale so large that it had to have been an inside job. Even when the Yemeni government claims to have killed major al-Qaeda figures, those same men are often featured as dramatic arrests in news releases several months later. Either resurrections are fairly commonplace in Yemen, or it is a matter of routine for the government to claim counter terror credit to which it is not entitled. In spite of all this, President Ali Abdullah Saleh has been referred to repeatedly by the US government as an ally in the war on terror. In an exceptionally naive assessment of the strength of this allegiance, the US and other western nations have provided weapons and training to Yemeni counter terrorism forces, with the assurances of President Saleh that none would be used for purposes other than suppressing al Qaeda.
Surprise! Almost immediately after receiving their diplomas, one of the first groups of Counter Terror experts was deployed by Saleh to the north of Yemen, where they were thrown into battle against the Houthi rebels. This mission, which was regime protection, not counter terrorism, was directly counter to Saleh’s promise. Not surprisingly, because the CT forces were trained for completely different conditions, they suffered embarrassing losses.
Not to let mendacity spoil a good thing, nations like the US and the UK redoubled their efforts in Yemen, contributing more weapons and training in the hopes that Yemen, against all historical evidence to the contrary, would dedicate itself to the eradication of al-Qaeda. Instead, CT weapons and trainees were used to suppress peaceful protests aimed at forcing President Saleh out of office.
America seems to have gotten the message. As pointed out by Yemen expert Jane Novak, recently released documents suggest that the US suspended weapons shipments in February, when it became clear that the regime was murdering its citizens as they protested.
Better late than never, but why have we dallied with Saleh at all? It is an open secret that his regime has long enjoyed a symbiotic relationship with al-Qaeda; there is no veracity to claims that he is an ally in any sense of the word. Neither is he any boon to his own people. When he should have been preparing his economy for the impending collapse of his oil reserves, he and his cronies have been systematically stripping everything of worth from the country, pocketing foreign aid, and leaving his nation destitute. Anyone who has the nerve to protest is either bought off or beaten down.
Other regimes, like that of Hosni Mubarak, former President of Egypt, at least gave us something for our contributions. We may have sullied our name by supporting him in his thugishness, but for all his problems, he at least maintained peace with Israel. In Yemen though, our aid has bought us nothing more than illusions, while forming in the minds of Yemenis a lasting impression of our association with a criminal regime.