In Yemen’s secret prisons, UAE tortures and US...
The 15 officers who arrived at the prison in southern Yemen hid their faces behind headdresses, but their accents were clearly foreign — from the United Arab Emirates. They lined up the detainees and ordered them to undress and lie down. The officers then searched the anal cavity of each prisoner, claiming that they were looking for contraband cellphones. The men screamed and wept. Those who resisted were threatened by barking dogs and beaten until they bled.
Hundreds of detainees suffered similar sexual abuse during the event on March 10 at Beir Ahmed prison in the southern city of Aden, according to seven witnesses interviewed by The Associated Press. Descriptions of the mass abuse offer a window into a world of rampant sexual torture and impunity in UAE-controlled prisons in Yemen.
The UAE is a key U.S. ally whose secret prisons and widespread torture were exposed by an AP investigation last June. The AP has since identified at least five prisons where security forces use sexual torture to brutalize and break inmates.
Emiratis have swept up hundreds of Yemeni men into a network of at least 18 hidden prisons on suspicion of being al-Qaida or Islamic State militants. The prisoners are held without charges or trials.
The AP first asked the Pentagon about grave rights abuses committed by the UAE one year ago. But despite well-documented reports of torture reported by the AP, human rights groups and even the United Nations, Marine Maj. Adrian Rankine-Galloway, a Pentagon spokesman, said the U.S. has seen no evidence of detainee abuse in Yemen. Still, he called the allegations “disturbing” and said, “The United States take all allegations of abuse seriously, although we have no substantiating information at this time.”
“We call on all parties to the conflict, including the UAE, to treat prisoners and detainees humanely and to ensure that allegations of abuse are investigated quickly and thoroughly,” the department said in a statement.
UAE officials did not respond to requests for comment, but the country’s permanent mission to the United Nations in Geneva released a statement after publication claiming that the Yemeni government is in complete control of its prisons. “The UAE has never managed or run prisons or secret detention centers in Yemen,” the mission said.
But Yemen’s interior minister has said he does not have authority over prisons and must ask for UAE permission to enter Aden, where witnesses documented much of the sexual torture.
Of the five prisons where the AP found sexual torture, four are in Aden, according to three Yemeni security and military officials who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.
One is at the Buriqa base — the headquarters for the Emirati forces. A second is at the house of Shallal Shaye, the Aden security chief closely allied with the UAE, and a third is at a nightclub-turned-prison called Wadah. The fourth is at Beir Ahmed, where the March atrocities occurred.
U.S. personnel have been seen at the Buriqa base, along with Colombian mercenaries, according to two prisoners and two security officials. The detainees could not say whether the Americans, some of whom wear military uniforms, are members of the U.S. government or mercenaries.
But it is the UAE that has taken the lead in southern Yemen.
A former security chief who himself was involved in torturing detainees to extract confessions told the AP that rape is used as a way to force detainees to cooperate with the Emiratis in spying.
Amnesty International said it had also documented “systematic grave violations” in UAE-run prisons in Yemen. Responding to the AP report, the group said it was “shocking” that U.S. officials “continue to dismiss these credible allegations.” Kristine Beckerle, a researcher for Human Rights Watch in Yemen, said her group had also documented abuses. “U.S. claims that they found no evidence of detainee abuse shows they weren’t looking very hard,” she said.
Yemen’s war has left over 10,000 people dead, displaced millions, and pushed the already poor country to the edge of famine . The UAE’s control over southern Yemen, and the prisons, has left many Yemenis worried that innocent civilians are being pushed into the arms of the very extremists that Emirati forces claim they are fighting.
The AP report, while shocking to many Western readers, is nothing new for many Yemenis. Abuses by UAE-backed forces in the south of the country have been outed by several human rights and media organisations over the past 12 months.
What is significant is that the report is the most recent and public manifestation of a growing backlash against the UAE over its role in Yemen – which is ostensibly to support the Government of Yemen in its civil war against the Houthis, but which increasingly appears to manifest longer-term political control and influence over any future Yemeni state, or states.
Growing resentment against the UAE is not limited to its role in prisons and black sites. Over the past few months, the UAE has been involved in several spats over its perceived overreach in supporting armed actors in the south; military bases in Yemeni islands, such as Socotra; and control of Yemen’s ports, notably Aden. The UAE deployment to Socotra was particularly baffling, given that the island has been peaceful throughout the current conflict, and was far removed from the frontlines.
Increasingly, many Yemenis are coming to view the Emirates as an occupying power whose agenda is to divide the country through its support of local armed actors, solidify influence over the economy, and maintain control over the strategic coastline.