Since the Saudi-led war in Yemen began in 2015, the United States has consistently asserted that it is not directly involved in the conflict, a convenient loophole that has allowed the U.S. to be indirectly involved without an official declaration of war by Congress or executive order. Indeed, since the war began, the U.S. has been providing targeting intelligence, logistical assistance and $215 billion worth of weapons to the Saudis.
Now, a new investigative report from The Associated Press has exposed yet another example of the U.S.’ indirect involvement in the war in Yemen – the key role that U.S. forces play in a network of secret prisons located throughout Saudi coalition-controlled territory where horrendous acts of torture are said to have taken place.
— Kristine Beckerle (@K_Beckerle) June 22, 2017
At least 18 prisons have been documented in southern Yemen, most of which are run by the United Arab Emirates – a member of the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen and one of the U.S.’ “key allies” in its Middle Eastern counter-terrorism operations.
Within these prisons, more than 2,000 Yemeni men are said to have disappeared – those who have survived have recounted nightmarish torture tactics within the black site facilities. In one detention complex in the city of Mukalla, inmates have been packed into shipping containers covered in human feces and blindfolded for weeks at a time. Others at the same facility reported being sexually assaulted, while others were sent to the “grill” – where detainees are tied to a spit and spun over a circle of fire.
On Wednesday, U.S. military officials confirmed U.S. involvement in the secret prison network, where an unknown number of U.S. forces interrogate detainees. They, however, denied that U.S. forces had taken part in any acts of torture, nor had they witnessed any such acts. Dana White, chief spokeswoman for the Department of Defense, stated in response to the AP investigation that “we always adhere to the highest standards of personal and professional conduct. We would not turn a blind eye, because we are obligated to report any violations of human rights.”
A history of torture
While the Department of Defense has sought to distance itself from torture and secret prisons in Yemen, their claim that the U.S. military is obligated to report human rights violations whenever and wherever they are witnessed is antithetical to decades-old U.S. military interrogation policy.
For instance, the U.S. military is well-known for its policy of teaching torture to the military personnel of its allies. The School of the Americas (SOA), now the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), is perhaps the most well-known example.
The institution instructors have taught the military, police and intelligence officers of U.S. allies in Latin America since 1946. Seven U.S. Army interrogation manuals are known to have been translated for use at SOA, all of which offer instruction on torture, beatings and assassination. Many of the SOA’s graduates have gone on to help prop up U.S.-supported fascist regimes in South America and to kill local activists who dared to protest the neoliberal order.
SOA graduates have also helped the U.S. by field-testing torture techniques that the U.S. would later teach to Iraqi military and police officers in the aftermath of the 2003 invasion to oust Saddam Hussein. Soon after the invasion, the U.S. pulled former Special Forces operative James Steele out of retirement to train Iraqi paramilitary forces. Steele had previously made a name for himself in the 1980s, training some of Latin America’s most notorious “death squads.”
Steele instructed the Iraqi forces he trained to set up torture camps throughout the country, where they were told to primarily target other religious sects seen as unfriendly to the new U.S.-backed regime. The U.S. government also issued an order at the time that told U.S. soldiers to ignore Iraqi-on-Iraqi torture in order to allow sectarianism to spiral out of control.
Iraqi Security Forces and similar paramilitary groups continue to practice torture today, with the most recent example surfacing in late May, when a group of Iraqi soldiers were caught on film torturing and killing civilians in Mosul.
Given the U.S.’ well-documented policy of teaching torture to officers of their allies and its penchant for using private prisons, it seems doubtful that its military would report the same human rights violations that it helped to create, especially now that the presence of U.S. military at the Yemen facilities has been confirmed.
This latest example of the U.S.’ indirect involvement in the humanitarian tragedy unfolding in Yemen underscores the recent words of Catherine Shakdam, a political analyst who specializes in the conflict in Yemen: “You cannot call this war a war of political restoration. You can’t call it anything else, but genocide of war and a crime against humanity.”
Feature photo | A former detainee shows how he was kept in handcuffs and leg shackles while held in a secret prison at Riyan airport in the Yemeni city of Mukalla in this May 11, 2017 photo. Photo | AP