After Major General Ali Muhsin’s defection in March, I learned quickly which uniforms belonged to the “bad guys”, as one of my editors put it. I know the urban and woodland digital camouflage of Yemen’s Central Security Forces quite well. The red berets of their officers let you know you’re really in trouble. When they arrested me this time and took me to their commander, he didn’t think it was funny when I started doing a bit of a dance and singing this
The official theme song of Yemen’s Central Security Forces
The evening seemed to have started off right. After hearing that protesters were moving down the 60 meter road, which usually means trouble, I ran from the Yemen Times offices and flagged down a cab. My driver was one of four brothers who took turns driving the cab while the others stayed at the protest camp. Anti-government cab drivers are a crucial part of covering protests in Yemen.
When I asked if he would mind driving me to where trouble might be he said he didn’t mind at all.
“Are you scared?” I asked.
“I only fear God,” he replied
That’s good, the last thing you want is a cabbie bugging out on you the things start going boom.
When we pulled up to the security force side of the fighting, I started seeing Molotov cocktails flying and I couldn’t contain my excitement and my desire to get some footage. Instead of trying to get around to the protester’s side, I hopped right out of the cab, camera in hand.
Even though that’s the direction the bullets and tear gas are flying, its always better to be on the anti-government side of fighting. Protesters won’t arrest and deport you.
I crept behind a highway divider and started filming plainclothes pro-government thugs (the infamous baltajiya) hip-firing their AK-47’s at protesters. In response, more Molotovs started flying. One even hit the water cannon truck, catching it aflame. However, as you can imagine, water cannon trucks probably don’t stay on fire for long.
Just as I began to hear the unmistakable boom of 12.7mm Dushka machine guns, I got tackled by one of the balatija. He snatched my camera and we both hopped to her feet. Dumbfound, I pushed him, snatched my camera back, and let some English obscenities fly. When he raised his club, I realized how stupid that was and surrendered my camera back to him.
“So, you want to take picture of baltajiya shooting protesters, huh?” he asked in a condescending tone.
It wasn’t long before I was standing in front of another raspberry beret, telling him all kinds of BS.
“My wife is caught between the fighting!”
“I was just sitting at that restaurant!”
“My handicapped sister’s wheelchair broke down right in front of the water truck!”
He opened the door to his truck and gestured for me to get in with two other soldiers enjoying their gargantuan muhbashim (qat wads). Ever since my last arrest, its been my policy to just walk away and not get in the car, hoping that the soldiers will be hesitant to man-handle a foreigner.
“Nope, sorry, bye,” I said as I casually began to walk away, lamenting the loss of my camera and my incredible footage.
The raspberry beret ran in front of me and shook his head. I moved out of his way and began walking again but he put his hands on my shoulders and applied just a little bit of pressure, letting me know that this particular man wearing a raspberry beret wasn’t scared to manhandle a 250 pound white man.
“There are about 500 of us here,” he said.
So I got in the damn truck.
I was trying to joke around with the soldiers to see if they would just let me out. They wouldn’t. I threatened to call the American ambassador, they didn’t budge. I told them I was going to call the CIA, they laughed. I told them I was going to call Mossad, they laughed even harder.
When I finally saw where they were taking me, the political security prison, I knew it was time to get down to brass tacks. People who go in that place don’t come out again.
“How much do you want?” I asked.
“How much you got?” one soldier replied.
I pulled all the cash out of my wallet. 7000 Riyals. About 35 bucks.
The soldier shook his head, “Looks like we’re going to have to take you to an ATM,” he said.
A few minutes later I was out a camera and 20,000 Riyals, about 100 bucks.
They put me out in the middle of the 60 meter road, as large as the Atlanta downtown connector.
I’m not a Prince fan anymore.
Ross West in Hanoi contributed the alcohol for this report