Congress must investigate US links to extralegal prisons in Yemen

Reports by the Associated Press (AP) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) have revealed a network of extralegal prisons run by the United Arab Emirates and UAE-backed forces in southern Yemen. These prisons reportedly house people suspected of having ties to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and Islamic State. Both the AP and HRW have found evidence of widespread abuse by security forces, including arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, and widespread torture. Disturbingly, there are indications that US military personnel have been aware of--and possibly involved in--the torture and abuse of Yemeni prisoners. Former prisoners and Yemeni soldiers told the AP that US forces had been present in prisons while inmates were being tortured, and US officials told the AP that US forces provide questions to and receive interrogation transcripts from UAE and Yemeni authorities at these prisons.  The YPP condemns the illegal and inhuman behavior described in these reports, and calls on the US Congress to investigate  the involvement of US personnel in these abuses.

In November 2015, then-President Obama signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2016. The FY16 NDAA specifically outlawed the use of torture and other  “coercive interrogation techniques” by the US military following the partial declassification of the CIA’s torture report earlier that same year. Analysts have noted, however, that Congress did not outlaw the use of “proxy torture,” or the outsourcing of torture by one government to a partner force, which could allow  the US government to circumvent the congressional prohibition on torture. Given the clandestine nature of the role of  American personnel in Yemen and their reported involvement in torture in Yemen, it is imperative that Congress exercises its oversight duties and opens a transparent investigation into these allegations.

Torture has no place in American policy. American interrogations of suspects apprehended by UAE forces and their proxies must halt. There must be a reevaluation of future support for the UAE military and other foreign military units operating in Yemen. Continued US support of these forces could result in a violation of the Leahy Law, which prohibits knowingly providing support to partner forces that conduct torture. There must be a full independent investigation into US military interrogation practices. Finally, Congress must pursue legislation that makes torture by proxy illegal under US law.We urge members of Congress to pursue these measures in an earnest and bipartisan manner.