Family of ‘disappeared’ American fight to learn his condition in Yemen

Spencer Ackerman,  theguardian

US diplomats have met with an American citizen missing inside Yemen’s penal system, but continue not to tell his family where he is and have downplayed the question of his mistreatment.

After Sharif Mobley, 30, told his wife that his American-backed captors have forced him to drink from urine-laced bottles, one US consular officer told Mobley’s family merely that he was “asked to use a dirty glass”.

Lawyers for Mobley, detained in Yemen since he was snatched off the streets of Sana’a in 2010, say they have not seen him since February and consider him a disappeared person.

Formally charged with murder, and once suspected of ties to terrorists, Mobley recently told his wife in a surreptitious phone call last month that he fears for his life.

Almost nothing is known about Mobley’s plight in captivity since February. Carlton Benson, a consular officer at the US embassy in Yemen, described Mobley’s conditions delicately in an email sent to his family.

“Sharif mentioned during my last prison visit that we [sic] was asked to use a dirty glass,” Benson wrote to Mobley’s mother, Cynthia, on 29 September, in an email passed to the Guardian by the family. The official suggested that Cynthia Mobley include a “plastic cup or glass” in a care package he said she could send her son via the State Department.

Nzinga Islam, Mobley’s wife, has said that Mobley told her his captors have forced him to drink water from bottles that had contained urine, part of what he described as ongoing torture.

“I feel like they have no intention of making a big deal about anything that’s happening to Sharif,” Nzinga Islam, Mobley’s wife, told the Guardian.

Benson is one of a handful of State Department officials who claim to have visited Mobley in prison. None of them have disclosed where Mobley is or why he has not been produced for at least five court appearances, compounding the irregularity of the US permitting one of its nationals to be tried for a capital offense in a foreign court.

In his email to Cynthia Mobley, Benson mused that “maybe the prison authorities would even allow us to give him plastic utensils,” a passive tone that struck representatives for Mobley as odd, as the US is Yemen’s most powerful foreign benefactor.

“A week after Sharif told his family he was forced to drink from bottles used for urination, US officials visit him and recognise his complaint but choose to gloss over the important detail. US officials talk as if simply providing Sharif with clean utensils is out of their hands,” said Namir Shabibi, a case worker with the human-rights group Reprieve, which is providing legal counsel to Mobley.

Islam told the Guardian that a different US diplomat, Kim Richter, indicated to her that Mobley is being held by Yemen’s National Security Bureau, a security apparatus heavily underwritten by Washington.

Richter spoke with Islam on 26 September to brief her on a US diplomatic visit to see her husband, now believed to be detained on a Sana’a military base. Islam recalled that Richter would not tell her where Mobley is “because it may leak”.

But when Islam asked about transferring Mobley back to the central Sana’a prison, she quoted Richter says saying the warden intends to “check with the National Security Bureau”.

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