SOUTHERN YEMEN — “They come to strip off our clothes not to liberate us. After taking your clothes off, they tie your hands to a steel pole from the right and the left so you are spread open in front of them. Then the sodomizing starts,” a released prisoner from a secret United Arab Emirates prison black-site, who only wanted to be identified as A.F.D. in fear of retaliation, told MintPress. “Please do not mention my name.”
All I could think of was Abu Ghraib. But if you compare the [UAE-Saudi-led coalition] secret prisons to Guantanamo Bay detention camp, it’s no exaggeration, you could make the argument that these Saudi-UAE prisons are much worse.”
The 55-year-old civilian from Yemen`s southern province of Aden told MintPress he was abducted from his home and kept in a secret UAE prison for 18 months on charges of raising the flag of Yemen, signifying his support for a unified Yemen and opposition to the UAE’s military occupation of the southern district:
They blindfolded me and drove me to an unknown place, later I knew it was al Mushar military base run by Abu al Yamamah, then they took me to a jail.”
A.F.D. had been moved across the network of secret UAE prisons multiple times where he was interrogated dozens of times. During his interrogations, he was tortured with electricity, sexual violence, beatings, and attack dogs while blindfolded and chained down.
“They were hanging me for a long time and electrocuted me, I was screaming from beatings so intense that I could feel our cell shake, then I went unconscious,” A.F.D. told MintPress.The effects of the shocks are evident on his body. “In one of the torture sessions, four brothers [Sa’id, Abdul, Hakim and Ahmed] from the Manser family in Aden, had been hanged in front of us.”
Hundreds of detainees from Aden, Hadramout provinces and Al Mukha city suffered similar abuses, including sexual violence, in the UAE-run secret prisons across southern Yemen:
Cells are overcrowded, guards are cruel, there is indiscriminate violence. I even saw a young boy being raped. For a long time, he refused to eat because of the appalling shock.”
A.F.D. spoke to MintPress with a broken nose and suffering from severe pain running down his spine. He recalled a day when he and his prison mates were sexually abused:
They touched our genitals, probing our rectums. My prison mate shouted, ‘You are killing our dignity.’ An Emirati soldier shouted back, ‘This is our job!’”
A.F.D. stopped for a moment and said:
You know, there was an Emirati officer named Hitler. He would chant ‘Do you know who I am? I am Hitler…Hitler!’ when he would walk on our bare bodies after lining us up and forcing us to lie down.”
Red scars on A.F.D.’s hand could be seen at a glance, as he flailed his arms while recalling how he was tortured:
The prisoners screamed and wept. Those who were kidnapped were threatened by barking dogs and beaten until they bled. Hitler has a dog called Shakeira.”
A.F.D.’s story is just one of thousands of Yemeni civilians who had been held without trial and tortured at a UAE-run prison in Yemen’s southern districts.
Investigations confirm a grizzly history of atrocities
An investigation by the Associated Press in 2017 revealed a network of 18 secret prisons set up and run by the United Arab Emirates across southern Yemen. The 2017 investigation found that nearly 2,000 Yemenis had been disappeared into prisons where extreme torture techniques were normally used, including a “grill” in which the victim “is tied to a spit like a roast and spun in a circle of fire.”
Lawyers and families of many of the disappeared victims told MintPress that the number of those kidnapped is actually much higher, estimating that over 2,500 men disappeared inside these secret prisons. Each day that number increases placing an emotional strain on the victims’ families.
In response, local families have been actively organizing weekly vigils to demand information about their children, parents and brothers’ disappearances.
“Our life in an endless nightmare where our loved ones have been forcibly disappeared. when we demand to know where our loved ones are held, or if they are even still alive, our requests are met with intimidation.” a 40-years-old brother of Ba Huirith who was forcibly hidden told MintPress.
Families working with local attorneys created a list with the missing names of those disappeared and launched an international legal campaign in hopes to draw attention from Western human rights groups in an attempt to secure their loved one’s release if they are still alive.
Despite the AP findings and campaigns launched by the victims’ families, the UAE denied and continues to deny that it runs any kind of prisons in Yemen.
However, an investigation in January conducted by a UN panel of experts affirmed the findings of the AP investigation that UAE forces were indeed responsible for acts of torture — including “beatings, electrocution, denial of medical treatment, and sexual violence” at secret prisons across southern Yemen. In May, the House of Representatives voted to force a public accounting of the U.S’ role in these torture prisons, allegations having emerged that U.S. officials were involved in the interrogation process at these sites.
According to anonymous defense officials who spoke with the AP:
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.”
According to the AP, a former security chief who himself was involved in interrogating detainees to extract confessions from prisoners revealed that rape is used as a way to force detainees to cooperate with the Emiratis, saying “in some cases, they rape the detainee, film him while raping, use it as a way to force him to work for them” as spies against the Yemeni army, brotherhood group, resistance movement of the Houthis.
A 25-year-old former prisoner, who asked to be identified as S.R.A. to protect his identity, corroborated the AP’s account, telling MintPress that rape was regularly used and threatened against prisoners:
At first I refused to cooperate with them [interrogators], then they filmed me in immoral acts as they raped me. After that they threatened me if I continue to refuse to cooperate, they would publish it on social media.”
The UAE is a major player in the United States’ so-called “War On Terror,” which is widely believed to be the reason Washington has turned a blind eye to much of the UAE’s activity, expansion, and atrocities in southern Yemen.
While Abu Dhabi claims to be active in southern Yemen to assist in the Western fight against al-Qaeda, Yemenis accuse the UAE of acting as a colonizing force in the region seeking to dominate energy sources, commandeer key ports linking it to the international community, and exploit it as a training ground for its military where thousands of UAE troops currently reside.
In fact, in Yemen’s three-year war, UAE forces purportedly fighting on behalf of Yemen’s government have taken over wide swaths of territory, towns, and cities in the south.
On July 10, Ahmed al-Maysari, who served as Interior Minister in the ousted Hadi government, called on the UAE to hand the secret prisons over to Yemen’s government. It was the first time al-Maysari went gone public with the demand.
The fact that the demand was made by an official of the Hadi government — which invited the coalition’s military to intervene in Yemen and became an excuse for U.S. backed Saudi-led coalition’s aggression — shows who makes the decisions in the south of Yemen.
Hadi’s government has nothing left to do aside from overseeing these prisons.
Now, as the flags of the UAE and Saudi Arabia are raised over battlefields and public buildings across Yemen`s south and in Socotra (an island near Somalia’s northeastern coast) with the flags of separatists sometimes appearing beside them, the Hadi government calls the UAE’s action an act of hostility.
Moreover, this comes as the UAE backs southern separatists and calls the shots in large swaths of southern Yemen, including Socotra. In fact, it is not just southern Yemen under the yoke of the U.S.-backed, Saudi-led coalition; indeed the coalition has been expanding its military influence across the Red Sea and the Horn of Africa.
Sites not mentioned by the media
While the AP previously confirmed 18 detention sites, including 13 prisons and many military camps, media reports have failed to mention other UAE prison sites located in the west-coast districts of Al Makkah, Khwakha and Bab Al Mandeb — which, according to local sources who spoke with MintPress, are also UAE-Saudi-led coalition run.
In Mokha alone, the UAE has established five secret prisons. One of them located directly in the Mokha port. Hundreds of Mokha residents and southern reluctants — who reject and resist the UAE presence in the south — have been arrested and incarcerated in these prisons. A local source told MintPress that hundreds of Mouza, Hamili, and Dwabab residents have been held in UAE secret prisons.
Abdul Jabbar Muhammad Ahmad al-Quba’i, a 37-year-old farmer from the village of al-Shaba’ located in the district of al-Mukha, was imprisoned on charges of opposing the UAE’s presence in al-Mukha and along Yemen’s western coast. According to sources close to his family, Al-Quba’i was subjected to torture, including being stripped naked and having burning plastic bags drip onto his skin, having cigarettes put out on his body and having his nails pulled off. Photos of al-Quba’i, leaked from the prison and posted on social media, show signs of torture on appeared his face and abdomen. Speaking on condition of anonymity, a fellow prisoner told MintPress:
Detainees were blindfolded, handcuffed and led in groups or individually into a room where the Emiratis were present. I remember one day the UAE officers told us to undress and lie down spreading our legs open wide.”
Of the five prisons where the AP found sexual torture, four are in Aden. One is at the Buriqa military base belonging to the UAE. A second torture site dedicated to sexual violence was located 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.
Another torture site run by the UAE was discovered at the Al-Rayan prison in Hadhramaut Airport, eastern Yemen. The airport was turned by the coalition forces into a military base and a jail where hundreds of Yemeni civilians are currently imprisoned.
A.F.D. told MintPress:
Our friend Ahmed Allahji died due to torture. … The prisoners screamed and wept. Those who were kidnapped were threatened by barking dogs and beaten until they bled. A.F.D recounted.
Al-Saqqaf died of torture and was thrown out of the prison window of ‘Waddah Hall.’
Abu Ali Awad, an owner of a sponge factory, was killed due to torture. His father and brother are still being forcibly hidden. As a result of this cruel torture, many prisoners died”
During my period in a prison, 32 prison mates were killed due to torture. One day, I saw mercenary guards in Al Mansourah prison when they were putting a body in a plastic bag.”
Although in the last year the Associated Press and others have unmasked the UAE secret prisons in southern Yemen, for A.F.D., as for many released prisoners, exposing the prisons will only cause their return to the torture sites as a repercussion. According to families who spoke with MintPress, speaking with media about the UAE-prisons will land a victim with charges of giving statements to the media and could get them killed. Two families told MintPress that they lost their sons after speaking with local and international media about their experiences at the black sites.
Feature photo | The entrance of Aden Central Prison, known as Mansoura, where one wing is run by Yemeni allies of the United Arab Emirates is shown in this May 9, 2017 photo in Aden, Yemen. Hundreds of Yemenis in the hunt for militant have disappeared into a network of secret prisons run by the UAE and Yemeni militias it created across southern Yemen, where former detainees say torture is widespread. Maad El Zikry | AP
Ahmed AbdulKareem is a Yemeni journalist. He covers the war in Yemen for MintPress News as well as local Yemeni media.