The U.S. Helps Run Secret Prisons in Yemen

What we do in the shadows

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The U.S. Helps Run Secret Prisons in Yemen

You bees make honey, but not for yourselves.
— Virgil

Our crimes continue in Yemen. Saudi Arabia is fighting the Houthis. The United States is backing the Saudi-led coalition. Are we ever.

Obama did it. Trump does it. We back the Saudi coalition as they bomb hospitals, as they block aid ships, as they pour down death on innocent people. And now, the Associated Press reports, we are helping run secret prisons in Yemen as well. Per Maggie Michael:

Hundreds of men swept up in the hunt for al-Qaida militants have disappeared into a secret network of prisons in southern Yemen where abuse is routine and torture extreme — including the “grill,” in which the victim is tied to a spit like a roast and spun in a circle of fire, an Associated Press investigation has found.

The image in the AP article depicts an assembly line, like in a packing plant. And it reflects the principle of the division of labor: the United Arab Emirates handle the torture, the Americans handle the interrogations. You know how it is; this is how friendship works, between people, and between nations. When your buddy needs your help moving his couch, he calls you. And when your geopolitical confederate needs help breaking human rights in dark corners, you rush in where angels fear to tread.

Senior American defense officials acknowledged Wednesday that U.S. forces have been involved in interrogations of detainees in Yemen but denied any participation in or knowledge of human rights abuses. Interrogating detainees who have been abused could violate international law, which prohibits complicity in torture.

The AP has evidence of eighteen hidden lockups, usually hidden in base; one is in an airport, one is in a private villa. Even a nightclub, if reports are to be believed.

Did you know that there are ten to fourteen inmates per cell? Imagine you, or someone you know, is caught up in a dragnet, no habeas corpus, no presumption of innocence, just thrown into this four-walled hell. Imagine the eye of the world turned away from you. Your country is being bombed by rich and powerful princes in far-off cities, and here you are. According to the detainees, in these prisons, you can hear the screams of your fellow prisoners. Fear and sickness are your constant companions. Sometimes you are flogged by wires. Fires are set underneath the metal shipping container you call home.

Inside war-torn Yemen, however, lawyers and families say nearly 2,000 men have disappeared into the clandestine prisons, a number so high that it has triggered near-weekly protests among families seeking information about missing sons, brothers and fathers.

It is not enough for the American state to back the Saudi-led coalition, which has caused the death of ten thousand people, aided a cholera outbreak, and is helping to starve two million children. We must compound misery with our own special brand of hypocrisy. Did you know the UAE was a big-time participant in the CIA’s old torture and rendition plans? Did you know that after Obama ended the black sites, the UAE underground prison system was set up during his administration? It was.

At one main detention complex at Riyan airport in the southern city of Mukalla, former inmates described being crammed into shipping containers smeared with feces and blindfolded for weeks on end. They said they were beaten, trussed up on the “grill,” and sexually assaulted. According to a member of the Hadramawt Elite, a Yemeni security force set up by the UAE, American forces were at times only yards away. He requested anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter.

America is the leader in outsourcing. We outsource our factories to the developed world. We outsource our wars to proxy forces. And now we outsource oppression, too. We used to run torture sites directly, under our own frameworks, on foreign land—Gitmo, of course, but also our bases in Iraq. But now, we have gone one step further, and are outsourcing our production of misery to independent contractors. How ingenious, how American it is to insure that the models of late capitalism are applied with rigor and managerial competence to the agony of the human face. I wonder if Henry Ford and Adam Smith could have foreseen the day that their practices would be applied to extracting screams from foreign throats, to drawing the rictus of agony from a prisoner’s mouth.

If modern industry is the story of our increasing alienation from work, and modern eating is the story of our increasing distance from the barnyard, then the so-called rise of human rights in the West is the story of our increasing alienation from oppression. Let me be clear: we have not stepped oppressing people. We just do it at an arm’s length now. We keep our slaughterhouses at a distance, thank you very much. No need to get our hands dirty. The right hand does not know what the left hand is making another right hand do.

To put it another way, governments used to publicly execute people, and factory towns used to make things. We still do a little of both, in America. But mostly we keep it away from the front lawn. We don’t need to do it ourselves. We have the help for that. Vietnam makes our shoes, and the UAE tortures our enemies.

Obama made peace with detaining prisoners forever, but he preferred to do it in Cuba. American boardrooms still want the production of goods, they just prefer them to be distant from actual Americans. The American state still wants the oppression of human beings, it just prefers it be distant from cameras and watching eyes. Laundering oppression is a cornerstone of our foreign policy. Our tax dollars and our flag fly overseas, to strengthen cages for lonely faces we will never see.

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