Hundreds of prisoners in southern Yemen swept up on suspicion of belonging to al-Qaida or ISIS are being systematically raped, tortured and humiliated in at least five out of 18 UAE-controlled "hidden prisons," according to seven witnesses who spoke to AP, which also obtained letters and drawings smuggled out of one prison in Aden.
Emiratis have swept up hundreds of Yemeni men into a network of at least 18 hidden prisons on suspicion of being al-Qaida or Islamic State militants. The prisoners are held without charges or trials.
Witnesses said Yemeni guards working under the direction of Emirati officers have used various methods of sexual torture and humiliation. They raped detainees while other guards filmed the assaults. They electrocuted prisoners’ genitals or hung rocks from their testicles. They sexually violated others with wooden and steel poles.
“In some cases, they rape the detainee, film him while raping, use it as a way to force him to work for them,” he said. He spoke on condition of anonymity, because of security concerns. -AP
“They strip you naked, then 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,” said one father of four.
From inside the prison in Aden, detainees smuggled letters and drawings to the AP about the sexual abuse. The drawings were made on plastic plates with blue ink pen. The artist told the AP that he was detained last year and has been in three different prisons. “They tortured me without even accusing me of anything. Sometimes I wish they would give me a charge so I can confess and end this pain,” he said. “The worst thing about it is that I wish for death every day and I can’t find it.”
The father of four said that sometimes the screaming from the beatings is so intense that he can feel his cell shake. “It’s beyond imagination,” he said. -AP
The photos reportedly smuggled out of Aden depict a man hanging from chains while being electrocuted. In another, an inmate cowers on the floor surrounded by snarling dogs as people kick and beat him. There are also graphic depictions of anal rape.
“Naked after beating,” one Arabic caption says. Another drawing shows a man’s rectum being forced open.
“This is how they search the prisoners,” the caption reads.
When the inmates reportedly tried to fight back in March - organizing three hunger strikes to protest their treatment, 15 Emirati officers showed up with dogs for more sexual torture - after forcing the men to stand in the sun for hours.
The incident in March began when soldiers opened cells at 8 a.m., ordered all detainees out to the prison yard, then lined them up and forced them to stand under the sun until noon. When the Emirati force arrived, the detainees were blind-folded, handcuffed and led in groups or individually into a room. The Emiratis told the victims to undress and lie down — and then spread their legs open, touched their genitals and probed their rectums.
“You are killing my dignity,” one prisoner was heard crying. A second screamed to the Emiratis, “Did you come to liberate us or strip our clothes off?”
The Emiratis shouted back: “This is our job!” The men screamed and wept. Those who resisted were threatened by barking dogs and beaten until they bled. -AP
One middle-aged prisoner said he has been in prison for two years, and has been moved around within the network of secret prisons where he has been interrogated 21 times - during which he was tortured with electricity, beatings, and attack dogs while he was blindfolded and chained.
“They beat me up with electric wires, with steel, an electric shock, or they take off the clothes except for the underwear and stomp on my body and face with their boots. The soldiers would carry you up in the air and dump you on the ground.”
One prisoner gave AP the names of several torturers he says are from the UAE.
One of the most brutal torturers is Yemeni, a former prisoner called Awad al-Wahsh, who was detained and tortured before agreeing to work with the Emiratis, four witnesses told the AP. His supervisor, Yosran al-Maqtari, could not be reached for comment. Al-Maqtari is Aden’s chief of anti-terrorism.
Other torturers named by detainees are Emirati officers known to prisoners by their noms de guerre: Abu Udai, Abu Ismail, and Hitler. -AP
U.S. personnel aware?
AP reports that "of the five prisons where AP found sexual torture, four are in Aden - and "U.S. personnel have been seen at the Buria base" where sexual abuse took place.
One is at the Buriqa base — the headquarters for the Emirati forces. A second is 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, where the March atrocities occurred.
U.S. personnel have been seen at the Buriqa base, along with Colombian mercenaries, according to two prisoners and two security officials. The detainees could not say whether the Americans, some of whom wear military uniforms, are members of the U.S. government or mercenaries.
But it is the UAE that has taken the lead in southern Yemen. -AP
According to AP, two prisoners say they think American personnel in uniform must be aware of the torture - either because of the screaming or witnessing evidence of torture on detainees. That said, prisoners said "they have no knowledge of Americans being 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.
Two other security officials, who were once close to the Emiratis, said that mercenaries including Americans are present at all the Emirati military camps and sites, including the prisons. Their mission is mainly to guard. -AP
The U.S. State Department called AP's allegations "disturbing" and called on the UAE to investigate.
“We call on all parties to the conflict, including the UAE, to treat prisoners and detainees humanely and to ensure that allegations of abuse are investigated quickly and thoroughly,” the department said in a statement.
The AP first asked the Pentagon about grave rights abuses committed by the UAE one year ago. But despite well-documented reports of torture reported by the AP, human rights groups and even the United Nations, Marine Maj. Adrian Rankine-Galloway, a Pentagon spokesman, said the U.S. has seen no evidence of detainee abuse in Yemen.
Still, he called the allegations “disturbing” and said, “The United States take all allegations of abuse seriously, although we have no substantiating information at this time.”
U.S. officials have acknowledged that American forces receive intelligence from UAE partners and have participated in interrogations in Yemen. But Rankine-Galloway said he could not comment on intelligence sharing with partners. -AP
While UAE officials did not respond to AP, their UN representatives in Geneva issued a statement claiming that the Yemini government is in complete control of its prisons.
“The UAE has never managed or run prisons or secret detention centers in Yemen,” the mission said.
That said, AP notes that Yemen's interior minister said he does not have authority over prisons and must ask for UAE permission to enter Aden, where much of the sexual torture has been reported.
Based on last year's AP investigation, the House of Representatives voted on May 24 to require Secretary of Defense, Jim Mattis, to determine whether U.S. military or intelligence personnel were in violation of the law while interrogating detainees in Yemen. The vote was an amendment to the 2019 defense authorization bill still under consideration by the Senate, brought by Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA). Under the terms of the amendment, the Defense Department would need to submit a report in 120 days.
Khanna called the AP’s Wednesday report “a shocking revelation of the ongoing human rights abuses happening in Yemen.”
“Now, with greater urgency than ever before, we need the Pentagon to launch an investigation and determine whether our nation has been involved in torturing prisoners in Yemen,” he said.
The "systematic grave violations" in UAE-run prisons have also been documented by Amnesty International, which said the Pentagon's dismissal of the allegations "shocking."
Kristine Beckerle, a researcher for Human Rights Watch in Yemen, said her group had also documented abuses. “U.S. claims that they found no evidence of detainee abuse shows they weren’t looking very hard,” she said. -AP
AP says that many believe the UAE-control over southern Yemen and their sexual abuse of inmates is pushing otherwise innocent civilians into the arms of extremism.
“In the prisons, they are committing the most brutal crimes,” said a Yemeni commander currently in Riyadh. “Joining ISIS and al-Qaida became a way to take revenge for all the sexual abuses and sodomization. From here, the prisons, they are manufacturing ISIS.”