A deserted cell in a Yemeni prison. A separate wing is part of a network of secret prisons into which hundreds of people have disappeared after being detained. (Maad El Zikry / AP)

A report published by Human Rights Watch and The Associated Press exposes how United States forces may have violated international law while interrogating detainees in a secret prison in Yemen. The detainees reportedly were tortured and abused by forces from the United Arab Emirates and Yemen prior to interrogation by the U.S.

The Associated Press reports:

Senior American defense officials acknowledged Wednesday that U.S. forces have been involved in interrogations of detainees in Yemen but denied any participation in or knowledge of human rights abuses. Interrogating detainees who have been abused could violate international law, which prohibits complicity in torture.

The AP documented at least 18 clandestine lockups across southern Yemen run by the United Arab Emirates or by Yemeni forces created and trained by the Gulf nation, drawing on accounts from former detainees, families of prisoners, civil rights lawyers and Yemeni military officials. All are either hidden or off limits to Yemen’s government, which has been getting Emirati help in its civil war with rebels over the last two years. …

Several U.S. defense officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the topic, told AP that American forces do participate in interrogations of detainees at locations in Yemen, provide questions for others to ask, and receive transcripts of interrogations from Emirati allies. They said U.S. senior military leaders were aware of allegations of torture at the prisons in Yemen, looked into them, but were satisfied that there had not been any abuse when U.S. forces were present.

The UAE denied allegations of torture in a statement to AP, but Yemeni lawyers and family members allege that at least 2,000 men have been locked up in the secret prisons. The AP continues:

“None of the dozens of people interviewed by AP contended that American interrogators were involved in the actual abuses,” the AP continues. “Nevertheless, obtaining intelligence that may have been extracted by torture inflicted by another party would violate the International Convention Against Torture and could qualify as war crimes, said Ryan Goodman, a law professor at New York University who served as special counsel to the Defense Department until last year.”

In an interview with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!, Kristine Beckerle of Human Rights Watch further explains the report. She says:

The UAE is a member of the Saudi-led coalition, and it’s the U.S.’s main counterterror partner in Yemen. And so, what the AP then reports is that not only is the U.S. aware of these allegations of abuse, but the U.S. itself is sending in interrogators into these prisons and involved in interrogations of Yemeni detainees—the exact same places where we and the AP are reporting that former detainees, family members, government officials have been telling us that there’s sort of rampant abuse. And so, the big question that you then have is, OK, so now the U.S. is on the hook potentially legally for selling arms to Saudi Arabia, and you now have the U.S. potentially complicit or involved in detainee abuse with the UAE in Yemen. …

The thing is, the ban on torture is one of the most fundamental prohibitions in international law. And that includes not only directly engaging in torture, but also being complicit in torture or using intelligence gleaned from torture. And again, that’s why these allegations are so—I mean, the U.S. and the UAE need to address them, because at this point it’s not just the AP reporting, it’s not just Human Rights Watch reporting. There are Yemeni groups who are reporting this. It’s sort of not in the realm of rumors. It’s in the realm of: At what point do you say, “OK, we’ve now talked to basically 50—we’ve documented 50 cases of abuse. You can’t come back at me and say you’re unaware, you’re not taking action”? Which, basically, the UAE’s response to the AP’s report was “There’s no secret detention sites. Don’t worry about it.” But it sort of defies belief, beggars belief, that we, the AP and others have documented all of these allegations of abuse and it isn’t in fact true.

Read the full AP story here, and watch Beckerle’s full interview on Democracy Now! here.

—Posted by Emma Niles

Your support matters…

Independent journalism is under threat and overshadowed by heavily funded mainstream media.

You can help level the playing field. Become a member.

Your tax-deductible contribution keeps us digging beneath the headlines to give you thought-provoking, investigative reporting and analysis that unearths what's really happening- without compromise.

Give today to support our courageous, independent journalists.