U.S. ally responsible for mass torture and disappearances in Yemen

Other detainees may have worked for Al Qaeda in some capacity. But they did so only because it was the de facto government in their community or region.
By Kara Menard | Jun 13, 2017
An armed force run by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has abducted hundreds of young men in Yemen, according to bereaved family members and human-rights organizations. Human-rights observers suspect that the armed group, known only as the Elite Forces and operated under orders straight from the UAE, has taken them to a prison compound in Yemen's al-Riyyan airport and subjects them to inhumane conditions such as locking them in metal shipping containers in temperatures exceeding 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

The UAE has been supporting the Yemeni government's fight against a rebel uprising since 2015. As the combat dragged on since then, UAE forces have expanded their role to also target the Yemeni branch of Al Qaeda. The Elite Forces are a component of the fight against Al Qaeda, according to a United Nations report published in January that said that the Elite Forces were created in the Yemeni port city of Mukalla in 2016 for the purposes of countering Al Qaeda once the Yemeni government had regained control of the city that April from a rebel occupying force.

International observers have asked whether the United States is complicit in UAE human-rights abuses in Yemen, as well. The United States and the UAE have a lengthy working relationship and have been coordinating in local operations against Al Qaeda, observers note.

"The U.S. should be very concerned about where the UAE is getting its intelligence from. There are also serious questions to be answered about the extent of U.S. involvement in UAE detention operations in Yemen," said Alex Moorehead, project director at the Columbia Law School's Human Rights Institute. "The U.S. should be transparent about what assistance it is providing to the UAE and its surrogate forces in Yemen. They should be investigating these allegations."

Since its inception, the Elite Forces have been arresting and detaining suspected Al Qaeda militants. But the group reportedly rounds up scores of innocent civilian men, as well. A panel of UN experts examined six disappearances last year and found that five of the six detainees had no links to Al Qaeda whatsoever. The sixth was merely a tradesperson who had conducted some business with the group.

Other detainees may have worked for Al Qaeda in some capacity. But they did so only because it was the de facto government in their community or region.

"He was married, he needed work, so he worked," said Abu Ali, the father of one man whom the Elite Forces took away."Al Qaeda was controlling everything."

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