The NGOs B’Tselem and Hamoked on Wednesday accused the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) of outsourcing torturing Palestinian detainees to the PA as well as other direct abuses of detainee rights.
The allegations were also directed at the IDF, the police and the Prisons Service, though the Shin Bet got the lion’s share of the criticism, with the main focus on the Shin Bet’s Shikma Prison in the South.
The Justice Ministry denied the claims in the NGOs’ report, saying they “distort the existing reality” of detainee treatment, which it said complies with all legal requirements.
Focusing mainly on affidavits and witness accounts provided by 116 Palestinians held for security reasons and interrogated at the Shikma facility, the period covered by the report is August 2013-March 2014 and comes in the aftermath of a firestorm over alleged recent torture of right-wing Jewish detainees.
According to the report, approximately one-third, 39, of the detainees reviewed were arrested by the Palestinian Authority prior to their arrest by Israel.
Of the 32 who had the date recorded when the PA arrested them, 17 were arrested by Israel less than a month after their release from PA custody.
Of the 39 detainees interrogated by the PA, 28 reported that the Shin Bet interrogated them about the very same matters.
Twenty-six reported noticing that Israeli interrogators had the interrogation materials from the PA, with the interrogator explicitly stating that he had PA interrogation materials on his computer in 22 cases, and sometimes even showing the detainee confessions he had signed for the PA.
Then the report added the claim that “this cooperation also extends to providing the Shin Bet with information obtained through severe torture at the hands of the PA Preventive Security Force.”
Of the detainees previously arrested by the PA, 14 related being tortured during interrogation there: 10 stated they had been beaten; seven described shackling and painful positions; four reported being held in a cooling room for lengthy periods of time; three reported being held in solitary confinement for extended periods... two reported that they were hung up by their hands for prolonged periods.
Next, B’tselem and Hamoked: Center for the Defense of the Individual argued that “the Israeli interrogators appear to have been aware of the torture that the detainees had undergone at PA facilities.”
Adi ‘Awawdeh, a 21-year-old student from Karmah, described his experience as follows: “I was detained by the PA for about 70 days. With the Preventive [Security Force] there was physical and mental torture… Then they put me into what we call the refrigerator – a small room about 90 centimeters wide and two meters long. They put you in there barefoot, with very thin clothes, and keep up a current of very cold air.”
Significantly, the report acknowledged that, “we cannot ascertain from the information at our disposal whether the PA initiated the arrest and interrogation methods or whether Israel was responsible for requesting the arrest and interrogation under torture of certain persons.”
While The Jerusalem Post has learned that the state likely did not respond specifically to this allegation in the report because it regards it as blatantly lacking any credibility, there has been complete quiet from the state on another overlapping allegation by the report.
The report’s next overlapping allegation is arguing, “it stands to reason – as is clearly indicated by the affidavits of three detainees provided for this report – that the interrogators knew that the interrogation material, which was provided them by the PA, was obtained under severe torture. In these cases, the Shin Bet interrogators knowingly used information obtained through illegal methods.”
Pivoting, the report stated “the prohibition on torture is not limited by territory: a country must not carry out torture, or use information obtained through torture, even if this is done outside its territory.”
The report recalled that in November 2009, 22 CIA agents were convicted for the first time of involvement in extraordinary rendition by an Italian judge “for abducting a person in Italy and transferring him to Egypt, where he was incarcerated and tortured.”
In addition, it said that the European Court of Human Rights had ruled in December 2012 that all of the actions taken against German citizen Khaled al-Masri were illegal. Masri was abducted by the Macedonian police who handed him over to CIA agents who transferred him to Afghanistan, where he was severely tortured by local interrogators.
In July 2014, the same European Court of Human Rights ruled that Poland had violated its obligation under the European Convention on Human Rights by permitting the CIA to torture detainees in a secret facility in the country in 2002 and 2003.
There were no direct or indirect clarifications from the state about whether it believes it is bound by the new trend of European court rulings or whether it is free to use evidence obtained by a third party like the PA which tortured detainees – without coordination with Israel.
In other aspects, the report was similar to past reports filed by the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI), which has been the main critic of Israeli interrogation methods over the years.
That general criticism, accused the Shin Bet and the other apparatuses of arrest and detention of inflicting on detainees, “sleep deprivation, sometimes for days at a time; being bound hand and foot to a chair, with movement restricted for hours on end; being subjected to shouting, swearing, threats, spitting, and indignities; exposure to extreme cold and heat,” and a range of other issues.
One signature aspect of the report also similar to more recent PCATI reports is a switch from a focus on the alleged full-fledged torture of detainees to lower grade “abuse and inhuman, degrading treatment, at times even amounting to torture.”
Notably, the report accuses not only the arresting and detaining apparatuses of the state of complicity in abuse of the detainees, but it also contends the policy is systematically “backed by state authorities ranging from the High Court of Justice to the State Attorney’s Office,” openly approving the treatment or turning a blind eye to it.
The Justice Ministry responded saying, “that the report has been written in a tendentious manner and on the basis of a non-statistical sampling that prima facie appears to have been selected so as to distort the existing reality of the treatment at the detention facility.”
It continued, “the Shin Bet operates in accordance to the law…with the aim of preemptively foiling and preventing illegal activities aimed at harming State security.”
“During their interrogation, Shin Bet Interrogates receive the full extent of rights they are entitled to under Israeli law and the international conventions to which the State of Israel is a party,” the response stated.