Yemen to probe alleged torture of detainees; U.S. senators ask for inquiry

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and other senators have called for investigations into reports that U.S. military interrogators worked with forces of the United Arab Emirates who are accused of torturing detainees in Yemen.
(Jacquelyn Martin / Associated Press)

Yemen’s internationally recognized government on Saturday ordered the creation of a committee to investigate allegations of human rights violations after reports that U.S. military interrogators worked with forces from the United Arab Emirates who are accused of torturing detainees in Yemen.

A copy of the order issued by Prime Minister Ahmed Obaid bin Daghr was obtained by the Associated Press. It said the investigation would focus on areas liberated by government forces from Shiite rebels known as the Houthis and their allies.

The reports of the abuses were revealed in an AP investigation published Thursday. The investigation detailed a network of secret prisons across southern Yemen where hundreds are detained in the hunt for Al Qaeda militants. American defense officials said U.S. forces have interrogated some detainees in Yemen but denied any participation in, or knowledge of, human rights abuses.


Defense officials told the AP that the department had looked into reports of torture and concluded that its personnel were not involved or aware of any abuses.

The 18 lockups mentioned in the AP investigation are run by the UAE and by Yemeni forces it created, according to accounts from former detainees, families of prisoners, civil rights lawyers and Yemeni military officials.

At the Riyan airport in the southern Yemeni city of Mukalla, former inmates described shipping containers smeared with feces and crammed with blindfolded detainees. They said they were beaten, roasted alive on a spit and sexually assaulted, among other abuses. One witness, who is a member of a Yemeni security force, said American forces were at times only yards away.

The UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement Friday that the allegations are “completely untrue” and a “political game” by Yemeni militias to discredit a Saudi-led coalition, which includes the UAE, that has been fighting since 2015 on the side of the internationally recognized government against the rebels. It says it does not run or oversee any prisons in Yemen and that any such facilities are under “the jurisdiction of the legitimate Yemeni authorities.”

In Washington, pressure has been mounting on the U.S. Defense Department after multiple U.S. senators called for investigations into the reports, with John McCain (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and the ranking Democrat, Jack Reed of Rhode Island, calling the reports “deeply disturbing.”

McCain and Reed of wrote a letter to Defense Secretary James N. Mattis on Friday asking him to conduct an immediate review of the reported abuses and what U.S. forces knew.


“Even the suggestion that the United States tolerates torture by our foreign partners compromises our national security mission by undermining the moral principle that distinguishes us from our enemies — our belief that all people possess basic human rights,” the senators wrote Mattis. “We are confident that you find these allegations as extremely troubling as we do.”