Our Favorite Cliche: and other errors in reporting
Gregory Johnsen, a former Fulbright Fellow in Yemen, is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University. Johnsen has written for a variety of publications on Yemen including, among others, Foreign Policy, The American Interest, The Independent, The Boston Globe, and The National. He is the co-founder of Waq al-Waq: Islam and Insurgency in Yemen Blog. In 2009, he was a member of the USAID's conflict assessment team for Yemen.
Despite appearances to the contrary - here at Waq al-waq we don't actually enjoy playing gotcha, well, ok - sometimes we do. But not all the time.
Case in point, is this article from the Wall Street Journal by Margaret Coker and Sarah Childress.
The article starts out with our favorite cliche: "The ancestral homeland of Osama bin Laden," which of course tells you all you really need to know about the place despite there being no firm evidence that bin Laden has ever visited the place.
The rest of the paragraph goes on to say:
"The ancestral homeland of Osama bin Laden, Yemen has long been a top U.S. security concern. For years, al Qaeda militants—including at least one Saudi released from U.S. custody in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba—have taken refuge here. One complication surrounding the closing of the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo is what to do with the more than 200 Yemeni detainees there. U.S. intelligence officials say they have little confidence in the Yemeni government's ability to keep them in prison back in their home country."
I think they meant to say there were roughly 93 Yemeni detainees, yes? Did Guantanamo get an influx of Yemenis recently? (A minimum of reporting would have informed the WSJ that there are, in fact, several former Guantanamo detainees in Yemen.)
I am, however, glad to see that:
"U.S. officials say they believe that the lack of resolve on the part of the Yemeni government is due to President Saleh's preoccupation with what he sees as more pressing internal security threats coming from the nation's fractious political and tribal system."
But I'm distressed to find out that the Huthis are a tribe (for anyone keeping track at home this is where my frustration got the best of me - Google searches are not that difficult).
"Chief among his priorities these days is the government's massive offensive against the Houthis, a tribe that lives near the border with Saudi Arabia. The government has been fighting the tribe intermittently for the past five years."
We also have this howler: "In 2007, al Qaeda announced the merging of the Saudi and Yemeni branches of the organization in Yemen after a crackdown by Saudi authorities."
It was of course, in January 2009 - remember this was when the two former Guantanamo detainees joined the new group - there was all the conspiracy talk about Bush administration officials leaking this news to the NY Times to embarrass President Obama right after he pledged to close Guantanamo. This coming from people who don't read Arabic and therefore couldn't tell that the Arabic statement was actually released before Obama was even sworn-in as president. I can also say with some authority that this didn't come from former Bush administration officials.
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