The Associated Press reported today that US forces were involved in the interrogation of detainees held in secret prisons in Yemen where torture is widespread. The centers are run by United Arab Emirati (UAE) and UAE-backed Yemeni forces.
The details are grotesque: Prisoners in these centers were “crammed into shipping containers smeared with feces and blindfolded for weeks,” beaten, and trussed up on a “grill” – a spit like a roast to which the victim is tied and spun in a circle of fire, the article says. Prisoners were also sexually assaulted, among other forms of abuse. The article also alleges that some prisoners were transferred to a ship where US “polygraph experts” and “psychological experts” conducted interrogations.
It’s a grim reminder that, not long ago, the US Central Intelligence Agency and US military were directly involved in equally depraved torture programs.
In this case, the US is trying to wash its hands of responsibility.
The US has officially denied knowledge of the torture and ill-treatment in the Yemeni centers. But that claim doesn’t fly, as the article says several US Defense Department officials confirmed that senior US military leaders knew about torture allegations. Those officials, however, worked to minimize US responsibility, saying military leaders looked into the allegations and were satisfied there had been no abuse “when US forces [were] present.”
Again, no pass. If US forces are interrogating individuals when there is a credible belief they may have been tortured, they risk complicity in the abuse.
Human Rights Watch, journalists, and other groups have extensivelydocumented torture and enforced disappearances in detention facilities run by the UAE and local forces. Today, we released a report on our investigation of the detention and forced disappearance of 49 people – including four children – in Yemen.
The alleged US involvement would violate international law, including the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and the Convention against Torture, both of which the US has ratified. If there is one thing the US should have learned from its post 9/11 history, it’s that engaging in torture, or cooperating with forces that torture, is counterproductive, helps militant group recruitment, and fosters instability and abuse. Information derived from torture is also inherently unreliable, generating false leads and wasted resources.
By ignoring these lessons, the Trump administration is also putting its military personnel at risk of future prosecution for complicity in torture.
Published on HRW on June 22, 2017.
Houthi militias and supporters of Yemen’s ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh have established about 480 secret prisons to detain and hide prisoners across Yemeni governorates under their control.
According to a recent report by the National Committee for Human Rights in Yemen, prisoners are subjected to severe torture, which includes mock executions and burning them.
The report stated that several government and private buildings were transformed into secret prisons and penitentiaries by militias, including 227 government buildings, 27 medical institutions, 49 universities, 99 schools, 25 sports clubs, 47 judicial buildings and 10 private houses.
There were 16,804 cases of arbitrary arrest, torture and enforced disappearances committed by Houthi militias and ousted Saleh forces, all of which were civilians, according to the report.
Several international organizations including Amnesty International have demonstrated such cases of arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance by the militias in their reports.
Following field visits, the National Committee for Human Rights in Yemen has reported that some detainees who were released after their arbitrary detention are suffering from poor psychological and physical health due to severe torture.
The released prisoners said the forces of Saleh and Houthi militias forced them to confess to crimes they did not commit.
The Houthis forced 99 percent of the released detainees to sign written pledges and papers to prevent them from engaging in any political rights, international or social activities that work against them.
If these pledges are violated, the militias will have the right to kill the detainee and his family, or confiscate his money and property.
Houthis have the secret penitentiaries under tight security, with access to only those in charge, as they have imprisoned prominent figures as well. Guards have to hide their identities so that they can prevent themselves from being identified in the future by any party.
The militias also abducted children from schools and forced them to engage in military actions. Alliance forces to support legitimacy in Yemen recently handed over 52 children who were recruited on the Yemen-Saudi borders after coordinated action with a number of international organizations such as the Red Cross and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
Published on Arab News' website on April 2017.