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A Deceptive Defense Department Report on Torture in Yemen

Luke Hartig dissects a Defense Department report that attempts to obfuscate the extent of U.S. knowledge of abuses committed in the UAE’s torture prisons in Yemen:

DoD’s report comes more than 18 months after the initial allegations of abuse emerged via Associated Press reporting and after Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the United Nations all conducted their own research and concluded the same. Yet despite this growing mountain of evidence, compiled by highly reputable sources, the DoD report variously hops from claims that the Department did not actually witness these abuses to reaffirming that of course the Department has standards in place to address abuses, but it does not ever directly address the core question of whether it thinks such abuses occurred, how much U.S. forces knew, and when they knew it. It’s a lawyered-up document designed to obscure the truth and allow the administration to continue its increasingly problematic partnership with the Emiratis with no real oversight or pushback.

The torture of Yemeni detainees in UAE-run prisons in south Yemen is one of the many abuses carried out under the umbrella of the Saudi coalition war. Like other horrible parts of that war, the U.S. has at best turned a blind eye to the abuses being committed by its partners. It is difficult to believe that no U.S. personnel knew about the torture and mistreatment of detainees in these facilities, and detainees interviewed in the AP investigation have stated that U.S. personnel must have known what was being done. The AP report in June said this:

In the same city, at the UAE-run prison inside the Buriqa military base, two prisoners told the AP they think that American personnel in uniform must be aware of the torture – either because they have heard screams or seen marks of torture.” Prisoners said that they haven’t seen Americans directly involved in the abuse.

“Americans use Emiratis as gloves to do their dirty work,” said one senior security official at the Riyan Prison in the city of Mukalla. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of security concerns.

The DoD report simply ignores the credible reports of abuse from journalists and human rights organizations. The report goes on to claim that the department has no knowledge of detainee abuse committed by its partners. Hartig comments:

By insisting that DoD has not independently developed any information, the Department again sets aside the meticulously researched reports of the Associated Press, two of the most reputable human rights groups out there, and the United Nations — all of which are highly credible, even if they were not developed independently by DoD.

The U.S. position on the UAE’s torture of detainees in Yemen is a disgraceful case of “see no evil, hear no evil.” Even though there is ample proof that the UAE and its proxies have been responsible for torturing Yemeni detainees, the Defense Department isn’t interested in the evidence.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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