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Report highlights torture and execution of juvenile offenders in Yemen

As Yemen's National Dialogue approaches -- an ambitious effort to reconcile the country's many tribal, political, and sectarian factions as part of its transition from Ali Abdullah Saleh's 33-year rule -- Human Rights Watch has pushed a new issue onto an already crowded agenda: death sentences and executions of juvenile criminals in violation of Yemeni and international law.

In its new report, HRW notes that there are currently "at least 23 young men and women await[ing] execution under death sentences in Yemeni prisons despite having produced evidence indicating they were under 18 at the time of the crimes for which they were convicted." HRW cites an additional 15 potentially underage individuals executed by the government since 2007.

Just as disturbing as the reports of juvenile executions are the descriptions of the juveniles' treatment in prison, which included torture and forced confessions. One imprisoned Yemeni man sentenced to death, who claims he was falsely convicted of a murder he witnessed when he was 15 or 16 years old, told an HRW interviewer:

They beat me with their hands, sometimes they would electro-shock me until I fell down. At that point if they had asked me, "Did you kill one-thousand?" I would have said, "Yes," out of fear.

Another prisoner told HRW:

They'd shackle us like a chicken, put metal between our legs and do falaka. This means beating you with a wooden stick on the bottom of your feet. Of course you'd want to confess anything. They also broke my fingers ... So of course I told them I did it.

The National Dialogue is scheduled to begin on March 18, on the two-year anniversary of a massacre of protesters that inflamed Yemen's protest movement. With two weeks remaining before the Dialogue, concerns remain about the representation of various factions and whether or not enough groups will participate for the Dialogue to be considered credible by most Yemenis.

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Who's holding up John Brennan's confirmation?

Almost two months after Barack Obama nominated John Brennan to become his next CIA director, the White House counterterrorism advisor's confirmation remains out of reach. Practically no one doubts Brennan will eventually be confirmed, but a few key actors and a few key issues remain obstacles for the White House and its nominee. Here's what's in the way:

Benghazi

On Sunday, fellow amigos John McCain and Lindsey Graham took to CBS's Face the Nation to renew their months-long quest for more information on the terrorist attack in Benghazi -- and to threaten delays for Brennan's confirmation. One of the key sticking points has been the altered talking points provided to U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice before she went on a range of Sunday talk shows to discuss the attacks. Last week, the White House provided the senators access to the e-mails discussing the changes in a classified hearing. But Graham and McCain said portions of the e-mails were too heavily redacted. In addition, they also want access to FBI interviews of the survivors. "John and I are hell bent on making sure the American people understand this debacle called Benghazi," said Graham.

Today, McCain, Graham, and New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte reitereated everything they know and don't know about Benghazi in a joint press release. When reached for comment, the White House pledged to continue to work with members of Congress. "We are having conversations with members of Congress about their requests, and we will continue those conversations," said National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden in an e-mail to FP.

Drones

The administration's targeted killing program via drone strikes remains a sticking point for Sen. Rand Paul. The Kentucky lawmaker says a simple "yes" or "no" answer on whether the White House can authorize a drone strike against an American in the United States would satisfy him. But he'll hold up the confirmation until he gets an answer, he told National Journal last week. "I want to hear the answer that they are not assuming the authority, or they don't believe they have the authority, to kill Americans on American soil with a program from the Department of Defense or the CIA," Paul said. "I think there's a certain bit of arrogance that they are not even willing to respond at all to us on this."

Though the president has said, "The rules outside of the United States are going to be different than the rules inside the United States,” Paul isn't satisfied, calling the language evasive. This "sort of, to me, implies that they are assuming they have some kind of authority inside the United States," he says.

Torture

Before ending his interview with CBS, McCain added that he had "some questions about torture" without going into detail. The issue of torture, or enhanced interrogation techniques, is what torpedoed Brennan's consideration for the CIA's top post four years ago. Though McCain has been a steadfast opponent of the practice, the opposition to Brennan at the time was spearheaded by liberals. At his confirmation hearing last month, Brennan denied having a key role in the Bush administration's torture of terror suspects. 


Clearly, the White House is not thrilled with what it sees as a distraction from Brennan's inevitable confirmation. In an e-mail to FP, Hayden said as much today. "The confirmation process should be about the nominees and their ability to do the jobs they're nominated for," she said. "As the confirmation hearings clearly showed, John Brennan is extraordinarily qualified to head the CIA, and the President needs him in place now. We face enormous national security and intelligence challenges across the globe, and to hold up these nominees for unrelated reasons is not in our national security interests." 

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