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US Ignores Allies’ Torture in Yemen

Evidence of US Complicity in Abuses by UAE and Yemeni Forces

An Emirati and South Yemen flag painted in Yemen’s port city of Aden. By 2017, Emirati and South Yemen flags flew in many parts of Aden, which President Hadi declared the temporary capital of Yemen after Houthi-Saleh forces took over Sanaa in 2014.  © 2017 Kristine Beckerle/Human Rights Watch

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 extensively documented 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. 

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