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Torture alleged in U.S. search for al-Qaida in Yemen

June 25, 2017 at 5:00 PM EDT
As the U.S. continues to work with Yemen and the UAE on counter-terrorism operations, an Associated Press investigation has found that hundreds of men captured in the hunt for al-Qaida militants are being detained in prisons run by those countries, where allegations of human rights abuses and torture are rife. AP Reporter Maggie Michael, who wrote the story, joins Hari Sreenivasan from Cairo.
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HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: The U.S. military said Thursday it carried out an air-strike in Yemen that killed the leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. The attack is a reminder of the ongoing U.S. counterterrorism operations there in coordination with the government of Yemen and allies like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

At the same time, an “Associated Press” investigation has found hundreds of men captured in the hunt for al-Qaeda militants in Yemen have been detained in Yemeni and UAE-run prisons, where there are allegations of human rights abuses and torture.

“A.P.” reporter Maggie Michael wrote the story and she joins me now via Skype from Cairo.

So, Maggie, tell us. What’s happening in these prisons?

MAGGIE MICHAEL, ASSOCIATED PRESS REPORTER: The prisons are set up inside different places like villas, military camps, ports, airports, and depending on which the location of the prison, the conditions are different.

So, in the city of Mukalla, for example, there’s a big detention center set up inside Riyan Airport where prisoners are held inside shipping containers. People are blindfolded most of the time. They have access to toilets for like three minutes a day.

There is torture every day, at night, from 11:00 p.m. where military officers and Yemeni soldiers, they enter the cells and they start flogging and beating detainees, and then they start to select a small number of them and drag them outside the cells for more torture, also included sexual assaults, according to detainees.

SREENIVASAN: You described something in here that looks straight out of a medieval story. A grill, what is this?

MICHAEL: Soldiers tie detainees and spit and spun them quickly and fastly until they vomit at the very end. This is what they described to me. And what I was told also that day, the number of people tortures like selected, like they select small number of them. So, they become like a model for the rest of the prisoners. So, whenever the time for interrogations come, the people they have already seen what’s happened to their colleagues — I mean, to the inmates, so they start to just give whatever confessions they are ordered to give.

SREENIVASAN: And who profits from these confessions? What’s the relationship to the U.S. in all of this?

MICHAEL: This is for the Emiratis and for the U.S., a source of information. And at least in one instance, in Riyan, witnesses said that U.S. interrogators would enter the interrogation room at least for three, four hours a day, four times a week. And they ask questions through the Emirati officers to get information. This kind of information will be used later in the raids and airstrikes was carried out over the past months in a prison in Yemen.

SREENIVASAN: What is the Defense Department, what is the U.S. government’s response to your story?

MICHAEL: U.S. officials acknowledged that they had interrogators sent to Yemeni prisons. However, they said that they received reports of torture and they looked into it and they found nothing. And this is the kind of response that the families were really upset to hear because they wanted to hear the U.S. government saying, we’re going to look into this, we’re going to investigate and we’re going to figure out what’s happening.

SREENIVASAN: All right. Maggie Michael of the “Associated Press”, joining us via Skype from Cairo tonight — thanks so much.

MICHAEL: No problem. Thank you.

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