In Yemen’s secret prisons, UAE tortures and U.S. interrogates

The Associated Press reports: 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.

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 documented at least 18 clandestine lockups across southern Yemen run by the United Arab Emirates or by Yemeni forces created and trained by the Gulf nation, drawing on accounts from former detainees, families of prisoners, civil rights lawyers and Yemeni military officials. All are either hidden or off limits to Yemen’s government, which has been getting Emirati help in its civil war with rebels over the last two years.

The secret prisons are inside military bases, ports, an airport, private villas and even a nightclub. Some detainees have been flown to an Emirati base across the Red Sea in Eritrea, according to Yemen Interior Minister Hussein Arab and others.

Several U.S. defense officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the topic, told AP that American forces do participate in interrogations of detainees at locations in Yemen, provide questions for others to ask, and receive transcripts of interrogations from Emirati allies. They said U.S. senior military leaders were aware of allegations of torture at the prisons in Yemen, looked into them, but were satisfied that there had not been any abuse when U.S. forces were present. [Continue reading…]

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Forced displacement worldwide at its highest in decades

UNHCR reports: War, violence and persecution have uprooted more men, women and children around the world than at any time in the seven-decade history of UNHCR according to a report published today.

The UN Refugee Agency’s annual Global Trends study found that 65.6 million people were forcibly displaced worldwide at the end of 2016 – a total bigger than the population of the United Kingdom and about 300,000 more than last year.

It noted that the pace at which people are becoming displaced remains very high. On average, 20 people were driven from their homes every minute last year, or one every three seconds – less than the time it takes to read this sentence. [Continue reading…]

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The return of famine as a weapon of war

Alex de Waal writes: In its primary use, the verb ‘to starve’ is transitive: it’s something people do to one another, like torture or murder. Mass starvation as a consequence of the weather has very nearly disappeared: today’s famines are all caused by political decisions, yet journalists still use the phrase ‘man-made famine’ as if such events were unusual.

Over the last half-century, famines have become rarer and less lethal. Last year I came close to thinking that they might have come to an end. But this year, it’s possible that four or five famines will occur simultaneously. ‘We stand at a critical point in history,’ the head of the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the former Tory MP Stephen O’Brien, told the Security Council in March, in one of his last statements before stepping down: ‘Already at the beginning of the year we are facing the largest humanitarian crisis since the creation of the United Nations.’ It’s a ‘critical’ point, I’d argue, not because it is the worst crisis in our lifetime, but because a long decline – lasting seven decades – in mass death from starvation has come to an end; in fact it has been reversed.

O’Brien had no illusions about the causes of the four famines, actual or imminent, that he singled out in north-eastern Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen. In each case, the main culprits are wars that result in the destruction of farms, livestock herds and markets, and ‘explicit’ decisions by the military to block humanitarian aid. In Nigeria, villages in the path of the war between Boko Haram and the army have been stripped of assets, income and food. As the army slowly reduces the areas under Boko Haram control, they are finding small towns where thousands starved to death last year. The counter-insurgency grinds on, and the specialists who compile the data fed into the blandly named ‘integrated food security phase classification’ (IPC) system, worry that in this year’s ‘hungry season’, approximately June to October, communities in the war zones will again move up the IPC scale: from level four (‘humanitarian emergency’) to five (‘famine’). Last year in Nigeria, the UN and relief agencies could say that they didn’t appreciate the full extent of the crisis. This year we have been given due warning.

In South Sudan, the government and the rebel armies have fought much less against each other than against the civilian population. In the summer of 2016, evidence from aid agencies showed nutrition and death rates in the region that met the UN criteria for determining that a food crisis has reached famine levels. Fearing that declaring famine would antagonise the South Sudanese government, already paranoid and cracking down on international aid agencies (aid workers were being robbed, raped and murdered), the UN prevaricated. By February, even veterans of South Sudan’s horrendous famines of the 1980s were saying that this was as bad as anything in their experience, perhaps worse. The UN duly declared a famine.

Yemen, however, is the biggest impending disaster. Don’t be fooled by pictures showing hungry people in arid landscapes: the weather had nothing to do with the famine. More than seven million people in Yemen are hungry; far more are likely to die of starvation and disease than in battles and air raids. The military intervention led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates has strangled the country’s economy. [Continue reading…]

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The Middle East’s dictatorships produce nothing but endless conflict and brutal repression

Iyad el-Baghdadi and Maryam Nayeb Yazdi write: Like Europe in 1914, the Middle East stands precariously at the edge of conflict. The history of the dictatorship-plagued region has shown that there is no such thing as a short and decisive war. The Yemeni and Syrian conflicts adequately demonstrate that, though both conflicts have been more or less geographically contained. If the current posturing transforms into an open regional war, the conflict will be neither brief nor conclusive. And the explosion of instability in the heart of the world’s most energy-rich region will send global economies into shock, create more opportunities for terrorists, necessitate further foreign interventions, spark new waves of refugees, and make the entire world less safe, less stable, and less prosperous.

The origins of the current round of chaos can be found in former President Barack Obama’s decision to disengage the United States from the Middle East — just as the region was undergoing a wave of pro-democracy mass protests. In the power vacuum created by the U.S. disengagement, various players saw both the space and the necessity to pursue their own independent, competing agendas — and in the ensuing melee, the voices of the Middle East’s people were brutally suppressed.

Obama’s push for a deal with Iran’s regime threw further confusion into the mix — leading to more destruction in Syria and ultimately opening the door to an overwhelming and brutal Russian intervention. Furthermore, to balance American alliances, Obama supported the Saudi leadership’s war on Yemen, adding more fuel to an already burning region.

Despite this, it is wrong to assume that Obama’s policies were the root cause of this mess. If anything, the U.S. decision to no longer police the region only exposed a deep-seated instability that has always existed. What we are witnessing is the consequence of a regional order dominated by dictatorships, coupled with outside powers’ reliance on an expired foreign-policy paradigm that focuses on short-term gain rather than long-term stability. It is time to realize that partnering with dictatorships for the sake of stability and security is unsustainable, myopic, and potentially disastrous. [Continue reading…]

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Cholera spreading fast in Yemen — 10,000 cases reported in last 72 hours

Al Jazeera reports: An estimated 70,000 cases of cholera have been reported by UNICEF in Yemen, with nearly 600 people dying over the past month, as the disease continues to spread at an alarming rate.

The UN agency, which provides humanitarian and developmental assistance to children and mothers in developing countries, said on Friday that the already dire situation for children in Yemen was quickly turning into a disaster.

“Cholera doesn’t need a permit to cross a checkpoint or a border, nor does it differentiate between areas of political control,” said Geert Cappelaere, UNICEF regional director, following his visit to the country, according to a statement on the agency’s website.

He gave warning that “the number of suspected cases is expected to reach 130,000 within the next two weeks” in the Arabian Peninsula country.

UNICEF said at least 10,000 cholera cases were reported in the past 72 hours alone. [Continue reading…]

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What America’s new arms deal with Saudi Arabia says about the Trump administration

Vox reports: President Trump has just announced the sale of a whopping $110 billion to Saudi Arabia which includes “tanks and helicopters for border security, ships for coastal security, intelligence-gathering aircraft, a missile-defense radar system, and cybersecurity tools,” reports ABC News. It forms part of a 10-year, $350 billion agreement in a “strategic vision” between the two countries, reports the Washington Post.

The deal had been in the works for some time, but the White House evidently pushed hard to finalize the deal in time to announce it during the president’s trip to Saudi Arabia. It was meant to send a clear message: Trump isn’t going to do things the way his predecessor did.

Back in September, the Obama administration approved a more than $115 billion arms deal with the Saudis. But as the death toll and reports of human rights violations in the Saudi-led war on Yemen began to rise dramatically, the Obama administration nixed the sale of the precision-guided munitions it had originally agreed to put in the deal to try to coerce the Saudis into curbing those atrocities.

Now those munitions are back in the Trump arms package — which speaks volumes about this administration. [Continue reading…]

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Trump may have just increased the risk of a terrorist attack on the U.S.

In response to the latest political firestorm Donald Trump has created, he has done what he usually does: jumped onto Twitter.


In other words, Trump divulged highly classified information with Russia because when it comes to fighting terrorism we’re all on the same side.

That’s the way it might look to an ignorant president and his equally ignorant supporters, but in reality the situation is much more complicated.

Just days ago, Alan Dershowitz criticized the hyperbolic tone of political discourse these days by tweeting:


Dershowitz’s reaction to the latest turn of events, however, showed that he is no less susceptible to extreme reactions — or that in this case he is correctly assessing the gravity of what just happened.


Dershowitz speculates that Israel may have been the source of intelligence that Trump revealed to the Russians:

“Let’s take the following hypothetical: What if it was Israel who provided this intelligence?” he said on an interview on MSNBC.

He warned that if Israeli intelligence was shared with Russia, then Russia could send it to Iran and Hezbollah, two of Israel’s foes.

The issue here may or may not be the content of the intelligence if it was gathered by Israel. Just as important would be the implied cooperation of any states in the region being seen to facilitate Israeli operations.

If, for instance, Israel, with Saudi Arabia’s consent, is gathering intelligence in Yemen, there can be little doubt that Russia and Iran could use this information to apply political pressure on the Saudis both in Yemen and Syria.

If as a result these intelligence gathering operations are curtailed this will then help ISIS and al Qaeda.

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Lawmakers demand review of Saudi bombings before massive arms sale

BuzzFeed reports: A bipartisan group of lawmakers is demanding that the Trump administration provide a detailed account of Saudi Arabia’s bombing campaign in Yemen, including instances of potential war crimes, before approving the transfer of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of precision-guided bombs, BuzzFeed News has learned.

The request, detailed in a letter signed by 31 members of the House of Representatives, could push the United States to disclose sensitive details about when and where the Saudi military ignored Washington’s instructions to avoid targets that resulted in civilian casualties.

Congress must “ensure that the [Royal Saudi Air Force] has the ability to avoid civilian casualties before the U.S. sells them any additional air-to-ground munitions,” said a draft of the letter addressed to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis.

The demand follows a decision by the State Department to resume the sale of precision-guided weapons to Saudi Arabia as the Trump administration beefs up support for the Arab monarchy’s military campaign in Yemen. [Continue reading…]

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Why food insecurity ‘over there’ matters right here

Ivo Daalder writes: Earlier this year, one of the world’s leading authorities on famine declared that 70 million people across 45 countries would need food assistance this year. Already 20 million in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen face famine, an unprecedented situation that prompted the United Nations in March to declare the worst humanitarian crisis the world has faced since World War II.

This global calamity needs our immediate and full attention. Yet saving millions from starvation is not only a moral obligation, it is also a national security necessity. We know from past food-related crises that lack of adequate food tends to create cycles of instability. A decade ago, protests over food prices toppled governments in Haiti and Madagascar. Popular grievances over food policy and prices also were a major driver of the Arab Spring and helped catalyze the instability and migration we see today across the Middle East and North Africa.

As the United States debates the appropriate balance of military, diplomatic, and economic levers at its disposal, the link between global food security and global stability has never been more clear, nor more urgent the need for U.S. leadership to confront and mitigate the risk of food insecurity. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. has launched 70 air strikes in Yemen in little over a month

The Hill reports: The Pentagon carried out roughly 20 strikes in Yemen against al Qaeda militants since last week, putting the total number of strikes past 70 in a little over a month, a Defense Department spokesman said Monday.

The strikes are aimed at al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the Yemeni al Qaeda branch that is considered the terrorist organization’s most lethal branch.

“We continue to target [al Qaeda] in Yemen, and this is done in the interest of disrupting this terror organization that presents a very significant threat to the United States,” Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis told reporters.

The United States conducted multiple airstrikes in Yemen this past weekend, according to reports out of the area. Davis would not say specifically how many airstrikes took place, instead saying that there have been 20 additional strikes since the middle of last week.

“Since Feb. 28, we’ve conducted more than 70 precision airstrikes against AQAP militants’ infrastructure, fighting positions and equipment,” he added. [Continue reading…]

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British police look at allegations of Saudi war crimes in Yemen

The Guardian reports: Scotland Yard is examining allegations of war crimes by Saudi Arabia in Yemen, the Guardian can reveal, triggering a possible diplomatic row with Britain on the eve of Theresa May’s visit to the Arab state.

The Metropolitan police confirmed that their war crimes unit was assessing whether criminal prosecutions could be brought over Saudi Arabia’s devastating aerial campaign in Yemen.

The force’s SO15 counter-terrorism unit revealed to a London human rights lawyer that it had launched a “scoping exercise” into the claims before Maj Gen Ahmed al-Asiri’s visit to the capital last week.

The revelation comes as May plans to underline Britain’s close relationship with the Saudi royal family on her visit to the Arab state this week, in which tackling the terror threat from Islamic State will be a key factor. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. war footprint grows in Middle East, with no endgame in sight

The New York Times reports: The United States launched more airstrikes in Yemen this month than during all of last year. In Syria, it has airlifted local forces to front-line positions and has been accused of killing civilians in airstrikes. In Iraq, American troops and aircraft are central in supporting an urban offensive in Mosul, where airstrikes killed scores of people on March 17.

Two months after the inauguration of President Trump, indications are mounting that the United States military is deepening its involvement in a string of complex wars in the Middle East that lack clear endgames.

Rather than representing any formal new Trump doctrine on military action, however, American officials say that what is happening is a shift in military decision-making that began under President Barack Obama. On display are some of the first indications of how complicated military operations are continuing under a president who has vowed to make the military “fight to win.” [Continue reading…]

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Drought and war heighten threat of not just one famine, but four

The New York Times reports: First the trees dried up and cracked apart.

Then the goats keeled over.

Then the water in the village well began to disappear, turning cloudy, then red, then slime-green, but the villagers kept drinking it. That was all they had.

Now on a hot, flat, stony plateau outside Baidoa, thousands of people pack into destitute camps, many clutching their stomachs, some defecating in the open, others already dead from a cholera epidemic.

“Even if you can get food, there is no water,” said one mother, Sangabo Moalin, who held her head with a left hand as thin as a leaf and spoke of her body “burning.”

Another famine is about to tighten its grip on Somalia. And it’s not the only crisis that aid agencies are scrambling to address. For the first time since anyone can remember, there is a very real possibility of four famines — in Somalia, South Sudan, Nigeria and Yemen — breaking out at once, endangering more than 20 million lives.

International aid officials say they are facing one of the biggest humanitarian disasters since World War II. And they are determined not to repeat the mistakes of the past.

One powerful lesson from the last famine in Somalia, just six years ago, was that famines were not simply about food. They are about something even more elemental: water.

Once again, a lack of clean water and proper hygiene is setting off an outbreak of killer diseases in displaced persons camps. So the race is on to dig more latrines, get swimming-pool quantities of clean water into the camps, and pass out more soap, more water-treatment tablets and more plastic buckets — decidedly low-tech supplies that could save many lives.

“We underestimated the role of water and its contribution to mortality in the last famine,” said Ann Thomas, a water, sanitation and hygiene specialist for Unicef. “It gets overshadowed by the food.”

The famines are coming as a drought sweeps across Africa and several different wars seal off extremely needy areas. United Nations officials say they need a huge infusion of cash to respond. So far, they are not just millions of dollars short, but billions.

At the same time, President Trump is urging Congress to cut foreign aid and assistance to the United Nations, which aid officials fear could multiply the deaths. The United States traditionally provides more disaster relief than anyone else.

“The international humanitarian system is at its breaking point,” said Dominic MacSorley, chief executive of Concern Worldwide, a large private aid group.

Aid officials say all the needed food and water exist on this planet in abundance — even within these hard-hit countries. But armed conflict that is often created by personal rivalries between a few men turns life upside down for millions, destroying markets and making the price of necessities go berserk. [Continue reading…]

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Trump administration weighs deeper involvement in Yemen war

The Washington Post reports: Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has asked the White House to lift Obama-era restrictions on U.S. military support for Persian Gulf states engaged in a protracted civil war against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, according to senior Trump administration officials.

In a memo this month to national security adviser H.R. ­McMaster, Mattis said that “limited support” for Yemen operations being conducted by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — including a planned Emirati offensive to retake a key Red Sea port — would help combat a “common threat.”

Approval of the request would mark a significant policy shift. U.S. military activity in Yemen until now has been confined mainly to counterterrorism operations against al-Qaeda’s affiliate there, with limited indirect backing for gulf state efforts in a two-year-old war that has yielded significant civilian casualties.

It would also be a clear signal of the administration’s intention to move more aggressively against Iran. The Trump White House, in far stronger terms than its predecessor, has echoed Saudi and Emirati charges that Iran is training, arming and directing the Shiite Houthis in a proxy war to increase its regional clout against the Gulf’s Sunni monarchies. [Continue reading…]

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Iran steps up support for Houthis in Yemen’s war

Reuters reports: Iran is sending advanced weapons and military advisers to Yemen’s rebel Houthi movement, stepping up support for its Shi’ite ally in a civil war whose outcome could sway the balance of power in the Middle East, regional and Western sources say.

Iran’s enemy Saudi Arabia is leading a Sunni Arab coalition fighting the Houthis in the impoverished state on the tip of the Arabian peninsula – part of the same regional power struggle that is fuelling the war in Syria.

Sources with knowledge of the military movements, who declined to be identified, say that in recent months Iran has taken a greater role in the two-year-old conflict by stepping up arms supplies and other support. This mirrors the strategy it has used to support its Lebanese ally Hezbollah in Syria.

A senior Iranian official said Major General Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Qods Force – the external arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – met top IRGC officials in Tehran last month to look at ways to “empower” the Houthis. [Continue reading…]

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UN seeks inquiry into deadly assault on migrant boat near Yemen

The New York Times reports: The United Nations on Monday called for an inquiry into an aerial assault on a boat of migrants last week off Yemen’s Red Sea coast that left at least 42 people dead.

The attack on the boat, believed to be carrying 145 people leaving Yemen, was among the most horrific episodes of deadly violence on asylum seekers there since Saudi Arabia and its allies entered the country’s civil war and began an air campaign against the Houthi rebels two years ago.

The boat assault also illustrated the vibrant trade in people-smuggling between the Horn of Africa and Yemen, a congregation point for tens of thousands of Africans fleeing their own countries.

Most of the passengers aboard the vessel were believed to be Somalis who had been staying in Yemen and were trying to reach Sudan.

United Nations officials have registered nearly 280,000 refugees and asylum seekers in Yemen, mostly from Somalia. [Continue reading…]

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