Human Rights Watch and the Associated Press have just published explosive new reports on a secret network of prisons in southern Yemen run by the United Arab Emirates and Yemeni forces. Dozens of people, including children, have been “arbitrarily detained, forcibly disappeared, tortured, and abused” in these prisons, according to Human Rights Watch. American forces reportedly participated in interrogations of detainees who were abused, a potential violation of international law. For more, we speak to Kristine Beckerle of Human Rights Watch.
AMY GOODMAN: So, Human Rights Watch and AP have just come out with this big report called ”UAE Backs Abusive Local Forces: Resolve 'Disappearances'”—it says, ”UAE Backs Abusive Local Forces.” Can you talk about the report? What is the title?
KRISTINE BECKERLE: Sure. So, what we—it’s the UAE is backing abuse of local forces in Yemen. And we call upon them to do is to resolve disappearances and to grant access to detention sites. And basically, what this report is over the last six months, Human Rights Watch has been investigating in particularly Aden and Hadramawt, the south and east of Yemen, abuses in UAE-led counterterror campaigns. And when I say “abuses,” I’m talking about arbitrary detentions, forced disappearances, abuse, torture, detention of children, and the UAE and UAE-backed forces running secret detention sites in the country.
AMY GOODMAN: How is UAE involved in Yemen?
KRISTINE BECKERLE: 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.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to read from the Associated Press’s new report. They write, “At one main detention complex at Riyan airport in the southern city of Mukalla, former inmates described being crammed into shipping containers smeared with feces and blindfolded for weeks on end. They said they were beaten, trussed up on the 'grill,' and sexually assaulted. According to a member of the Hadramawt Elite, a Yemeni security force set up by the UAE, American forces were at times only yards away.” Kristine Beckerle?
KRISTINE BECKERLE: So, we documented, as well, torture, abuse of detainees at that exact same detention facility. We talked to one mother who had her son detained and disappeared in that detention facility—I talked to multiple times—and who kept saying things to me like, “We just want to see our sons,” or, “We’ve heard terrible things, and we’re worried about them.” And at that detention facility, at al-Riyan airport in Mukalla, Yemenis who are following these cases say that potentially more than a hundred people are detained there, that people have been disappeared there, that they have no access to their families. People don’t have access to these sites. And now you have reporting that the U.S. is potentially involved in these things. And that’s—it’s a serious allegation, and, of course, it has echoes to some of the worst things that we heard, you know, 10, 15 years ago.
AMY GOODMAN: And this description of the “grill,” people strapped to a turning rod—
KRISTINE BECKERLE: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —a spit, and they are put over and they are rolled over a fire like a rotisserie chicken?
KRISTINE BECKERLE: I mean, there’s—it’s horrible allegations of abuse. So, we talked to—and this is including talking to former detainees who were held in these places, who told us about including electric shocks, caning, forced nudity, threats, threats against family members. And 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.
AMY GOODMAN: The first—one of the first military, U.S. military, to die was a Delta 6 in Yemen.
KRISTINE BECKERLE: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: You, in your report, say, “In 2016, the US deployed a small number of special operations forces to Yemen to assist UAE efforts … The US has also reportedly conducted joint raids with the UAE against AQAP [al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] in central and eastern Yemen, according to the New York Times and the Intercept.”
KRISTINE BECKERLE: So, basically, we documented the—if you remember, the raid in January. It was right after Trump became president, and he sent special forces operations into Yemen. And it was reported the UAE was a part of that operation. And we talked to family members. We discussed with people who were in the town at the time of the raid. And basically, what we said was that raid itself raised serious questions that the U.S. had violated the laws of war, because you had a very high civilian death toll, including nine kids who were killed in that raid. And again, these are the very same partners that the U.S. is doing joint operations with against AQAP, working with closely against AQAP, and now reportedly involved in the very same detention campaign where we’ve documented disappearances, torture, abuse over the course of a year.
And so, it’s sort of hard to emphasize how troubling this is, given, again, that you’ve already got the U.S. being a bad actor in terms of its support to the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen and that raising serious questions about U.S. complicity in crimes. And now you’ve got the U.S. being a bad actor in working with the UAE in Yemen in counterterror campaigns. And it’s sort of like, at what point do you say the partners that we’re working with, who are engaged in these grotesque abuses, shouldn’t be partners that we’re engaging with?
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, how does this fit into this rift that came out after Donald Trump went to Saudi Arabia—he actually claims credit for this—with UAE, the Gulf states, Saudi Arabia breaking ties with Qatar? And yet, at the same time, you have the State Department, Rex Tillerson, saying they’re trying to heal this rift, as Donald Trump is actually taking credit for the rift. What’s happening here? What are they gaining by cutting off Qatar?
KRISTINE BECKERLE: Yeah. And, I mean, so, on Qatar, specifically, there’s also sort of big implications for Yemen, right? Because Qatar was a member of the Saudi-led coalition up and until this rift. And then, all of a sudden, Qatar is now no longer a member of the Saudi-led coalition. There’s also been a number of Yemeni civil society activists who have been sort of publicly attacked or threatened because of perceived links to Qatar or the Yemeni Muslim Brotherhood.
And I think this is basically another example of reckless policy that takes no regard for the impact it will have on civilians. So one of the things that people aren’t really talking about is, you know, Saudi Arabia and the UAE say, “We have this problem with Qatar,” and then they say, “All Qatari nationals need to leave our countries,” but what about the families where a Saudi person is married to a Qatari person? What happens to those families?
You know, and so, the question then becomes: OK, Donald Trump, Saudi Arabia, UAE, what is the point of this? And what are you thinking, in terms of how the actions that you’re going to take—how can you at least mitigate the impact they have on sort of people’s day-to-day lives? Because, at this point, in Yemen, in Qatar, in the Gulf, you have sort of repeated policy announcements over and over that have significant impacts for civilians, without people seeming to take the actions necessary to mitigate those impacts.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Kristine Beckerle, thank you very much for being with us, the Yemen and UAE researcher for Human Rights Watch, just in Yemen earlier this year. Of course, we’ll continue to cover what’s happening in Yemen, the catastrophe there, the U.S.-backed Saudi attack on Yemen and much more.
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