Analysis: Where does torture end and moderate physical pressure begin?

The moderate physical pressure concept is a uniquely Israeli creation, essentially permitting aggressive interrogation in “ticking bomb” scenarios.

December 25, 2015 02:26
2 minute read.
The Dawabsha family home in Duma

The Dawabsha family home in Duma, July 2015. (photo credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)


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There actually is no exact agreement internationally about which interrogation techniques constitute torture, which are abuse but short of torture, which are just degrading- distasteful, which are necessary and which meet the “moderate physical pressure” concept.

The moderate physical pressure concept is a uniquely Israeli creation, essentially permitting aggressive interrogation in “ticking bomb” scenarios.

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Generally speaking, some countries, like the United States and Israel, have taken a more permissive approach to allowing aggressive interrogations in the post-September 11, 2001 era.

However, Israel is limited by a 1999 High Court of Justice ruling and later rulings banning torture and specific tactics, and the US is more recently limited by various presidential orders and the recent McCain-Feingold legislation.

Obviously, the exact tactics of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) are highly classified and The Jerusalem Post does not have access to that information or take a position on the ethics or legality of any tactics.

However, focusing on what the High Court of Justice has and has not specifically outlawed over the years, claims by various human rights groups of tactics used by the Shin Bet, the CIA and other intelligence outfits, one can paint somewhat of a picture of what the High Court and the Shin Bet may consider torture and may consider permitted “moderate physical pressure.”

Estimates of torture/ prohibited


• Sleep deprivation beyond an unspecified number of hours or days (under the Bush administration distinctions were made between two days, three days and 11 days)

• Tying detainee hands behind their chairs in a manner to cause pain

• Threats to rape and torture family members of detainees

• Lying to detainees about their rights

• Use of a chair that intentionally places pressure on the spine or forcing detainees to sit in certain painful positions

• Constant blasting of loud music or use of extreme temperatures beyond a certain point

• Physically striking detainees to cause pain (there are claims that the Shin Bet still does this, but no criminal investigations have been opened against the Shin Bet.)

• Starvation

• Nudity, being spat on or other degrading treatment

• Waterboarding

• Electric shocks

Estimates of moderate physical pressure

• – Sleep deprivation under an unspecified amount of time if performed under the guise of non-stop interrogation strategically interrupted with extended “breaks” (according to the US Army Field Manual, even using “restricted” procedures, detainees must get a daily minimum of 4 hours of consecutive sleep)

• Tying detainees to the sides of their chairs in a manner that might be uncomfortable

• Threats to arrest family members of detainees who may be under criminal suspicion

• Using low-grade deception to mislead detainees about their rights

• Use of an uncomfortable chair or having a detainee sit in an uncomfortable position, but not one designed to cause pain

• Exposure to an uncomfortable, but not painful environment whether related to noise, temperature or hygiene

• Low-grade roughing-up of detainees while transferring them between locations, sometimes in “response” to detainee outbursts

• Giving and taking away incentives, including food above the minimum requirements

• Generally making a detainee feel powerless and demeaned short of degrading treatment

• Isolation

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