Is the US Backing Secret Torture Camps in Yemen?

Though it fails to populate the headlines like Syria and Iraq, Yemen has been embroiled in its own turbulent and costly civil war for over two years now. Sadly, there is no indication the conflict will draw to a close in the near future.

Estimates vary wildly regarding the number of lives lost; most seem to agree, though, that as of this past January over 10,000 people had died. Now Yemen’s population is enduring famine, as well as massive outbreaks of diseases like cholera.

Last fall, the United States began to openly involve itself in Yemen’s civil war following a rebel attack on a U.S. naval destroyer.

In the time since, the country’s exact role in the conflict has not been made entirely clear. But given the widely reported botched militant compound raid earlier this year, the U.S. military is far from inactive on Yemen soil.

While leadership has been less than forthcoming — vague mission goals have been described as antiterrorist in nature — an eye-opening report from the Associated Press and Human Rights Watch reveals the depth of U.S. actions in Yemen.

According to a handful of interviews, U.S. allies in Yemen — namely, loyalist forces as well as the United Arab Emirates — have been operating secret black site torture camps. And at least 18 are currently in use.

Harrowing accounts describe prisoners being held for months without charges, going without food, enduring an utter lack of sanitation and being forced to sleep in cramped cells on top of one another. Sometimes inmates would be forced to undergo mock executions. However, this is far from the worst of the horrific treatment.

In addition to more traditional torture methods like beatings, inmates of these secret prisons also faced regular sexual assaults from their captors. And some former inmates recall having their limbs tied to a spit and being quickly rotated over a flame. Others talked of being piled into a metal storage container under which a fire would be lit in order to fill the container with smoke.

The abuse was so extreme that it pushed many desperate inmates to attempt suicide; in one case, a man even tried to asphyxiate himself by choking himself with his handcuffs.

How is the United States involved? The true extent is not entirely clear, but what is certain is that the U.S. is, at the least, almost certainly aware of the torture being committed by its UAE allies.

Interviewees say that it is common for U.S. intelligence to provide UAE interrogators with questions for their sessions. There are also claims that U.S. officials were on site and would have been unable to avoid hearing the loud screams coming from the torture chambers.

In response to these reports, several U.S. senators — including Sens. John McCain, Jack Reed and Patrick Leahy – voiced their concerns. They have requested that Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis investigate this claims.

The abuses described above constitute a gross violation of international law. While U.S. officials have roundly denied any knowledge of torture in these secret prisons, it would hardly be surprising if the opposite turned out to be true.

Among the many drastic campaign promises made by President Donald Trump was his vow to bring back the use of illegal black site prisons – and along with them, the use of torture, a practice that had dwindled under President Obama.

Even if somehow morality could be set aside, torture is an ineffective strategy -– and there is scientific proof to back this up.

Torture can certainly motivate a subject to talk. Unfortunately, in most cases, this involves the subject telling interrogators what they want to hear. In the end, it can result in useless, if not misleading, intelligence. Perhaps just as bad, it can erode any notion of a moral high ground being held against militant groups like al Qaeda or the Islamic State — and even help drive recruitment.

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis has, in the past, voiced his opposition to torture. And given the current situation in Yemen, it is his responsibility to investigate these claims and make the necessary changes to see they cease. If Mattis cannot do this, then his credibility as the head of the Pentagon will suffer — either as a result of troubling insincerity or a concerning lack of authority.

Photo Credit: Julien Harneis/Flickr


Sue H
Sue H19 days ago

Disturbing. :(

Clare O'Beara
Clare O'Beara21 days ago


Clare O'Beara
Clare O'Beara21 days ago


Paulo R
Paulo R21 days ago


Sophie L
Sophie L21 days ago


hELEN hEARFIELD22 days ago


caroline lord
caroline lord22 days ago

i should think it prob is

Thomas M
Thomas M23 days ago


Sabrina D

I really hope not.

Jack Y
Jack Yabout a year ago