US lawmakers call Pentagon to probe torture allegations in Yemen

House of Representatives votes to require defence secretary to determine whether US troops were involved in torture.

Qaeda Yemen
An investigation revealed last year that a network of prisons had been set up across southern Yemen [File: Yahya Arhab/EPA]

The House of Representatives in the United States has voted to require the country’s defence secretary to probe whether US troops resorted to torture as part of their interrogation of prisoners in Yemen.

The measure, which was adopted on Thursday unanimously on the floor by a voice vote, calls on Pentagon chief Jim to Mattis to look into whether US military personnel or any of the country’s allies were involved in torturing detainees.

The amendment was sponsored by Ro Khanna, a Democrat of California.

Al Jazeera’s Rob Reynolds, reporting from Washington, DC, said it is still unclear whether the measure will be included in the final defence bill.

“This legislation passed by the house is part of a much larger defence department budget bill. It would have to go to the Senate and then be sent to President Donald Trump for his signature for it to become law.”

The House vote came a few days after veteran CIA officer Gina Haspel was sworn in as the agency’s first female director on Monday.

Haspel was confirmed by the Senate last week in a 54-45 vote, despite vigorous opposition over her role in setting up alleged “black sites” used to detain and torture individuals accused of being “terrorists”.

‘Surrogates operating in prison’

An Associated Press investigation revealed last year that a network of prisons had been set up across southern Yemen with some 2,000 detainees rounded up for suspected ties to al-Qaeda.

Former detainees described “being crammed into shipping containers smeared with feces and blindfolded for weeks on end.”

In the report, US officials acknowledge American troops had been involved in the interrogation process but denied participating in or knowledge of human rights abuses.

A UN panel of experts largely affirmed these findings and accused the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – an ally of the US – of “torture (including beatings, electrocution, constrained suspension and imprisonment in a metal cell (‘the cage’) in the sun)”.

Andreas Krieg, assistant professor at King’s College London, told Al Jazeera the American public ought to be informed of what is happening in Yemen and the role of US troops there. 

“There has been a lot of evidence coming out in the last year suggesting there are a range of different surrogates operating in these prisons”.

“What the US has done is that they basically externalised this to surrogates, mostly the United Arab Emirates – but even the UAE has externalised this burden to local groups, so control and oversight, as well as the attribution to the US directly or indirectly, will be very difficult.”

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies