Photo of the Year: Menahem Kahana of the French AFP agency shows three Palestinian women standing in the Dawabsheh family home in the West Bank town of Duma, shortly after the arson that led to the deaths of an 18-month-old baby and his parents..
(photo credit: MENAHEM KAHANA)
The prosecution in the trial of suspects accused of murder in Duma urged the public in a statement on Monday not to forget the horrors of those killings and denied allegations made last week by a nonprofit legal-aid organization that the Jewish defendants were tortured, invalidating their confessions.
The statement also accused the NGO Honenu of misleading the public, while saying the prosecution remained bound by the gag order on the case in defending the validity of the confessions.
In July 2015, the Palestinian Dawabshe family in Duma, including 18-month-old Ali Dawabshe, was burned to death in a terrorist arson attack that included spray-painted anti-Palestinian messages.
The attack lit the Israeli-Palestinian conflict afire and led to the toughest crackdown by the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) on Jewish settler activists in recent memory, including employing enhanced interrogation against the two defendants connected to the case.
The extremely unusual and lengthy prosecution statement belatedly fills a near silence from their side after the parents of the defendants last week leaked that the prosecution had dropped those portions of the defendants’ confessions which were obtained through enhanced interrogation, in a move which could lead to an acquittal.
Although the prosecution informed the Lod District Court of this decision weeks ago as part of an ongoing two-year-long mini-trial about the veracity of the confessions, it only became public last week after the parents’ release of limited details, confirmed by The Jerusalem Post
– which are generally under gag order.
Honenu responded on Monday by calling on the prosecution to file a motion to remove the gag order and to open the proceedings to the public. It asked rhetorically what the prosecution was trying to conceal through the order.
Under the gag order, the record of what enhanced interrogation tactics were used is unclear.
However, past leaks have indicated physical beatings of the defendants.
Further, in those few cases where the state has admitted on record to enhanced interrogation being used on Palestinians, they have used exposure to extreme temperature, sleep deprivation and forced sitting in painful positions.
As a result of the use of enhanced interrogation against Jews, a whole spin-off debate was begun by politicians, the media and activists about whether the defendants had been tortured and whether the confessions obtained by the Shin Bet were illegal and invalid.
Amiram Ben Uliel is the primary defendant in the Duma case, which includes a minor whose name is under gag order.
The minor was eventually dropped from the Duma allegations themselves, but is still connected to the debate about whether confessions he gave regarding his alleged involvement in so-called “price tag” incidents could be used in court, since the Shin Bet used enhanced interrogation on him.
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The bottom line last week seemed that the minor – still a defendant regarding some serious price tag allegations, and Ben Uliel – allegedly the man who perpetrated one of the worst acts of Jewish terrorism in years – suddenly had a much better chance of acquittal now that the state was withdrawing portions of the defendants’ confessions.
A withdrawal of key aspects of the confessions could be a major blow for the case and could raise questions about the credibility of other evidence obtained by interrogating the defendants. This is especially true about evidence obtained from the defendants after the enhanced interrogation had ceased.
One legal source questioned how statements given by the defendants following that kind of interrogation could be viewed as credible, not as part of the defendants thought interrogators wanted to hear out of fear the enhanced interrogation tactics would resume.
Even last week, the state did not withdraw all confessions and statements of the defendants, but rather only those made during the period when enhanced interrogation was applied.
In that light, the prosecution last week released an extremely brief statement saying it was still confident it could triumph in the full trial based on other confessions and evidence.
However, the prosecution on Monday released a full description of the horrors of the Duma murders to try to refocus the public on those as the central issue instead of the defendants’ treatment.
Further, the prosecution gave a detailed rebuttal of some of the torture claims, stating that claims of sexual torture, kicking, electrocutions, spitting and attempted suicide by one of the defendants were categorically false.
At the same time, the prosecution did not deny that moderate physical pressure, endorsed by the courts, was employed. It merely added that whatever was employed was less than the claims and was within legal limits.
Finally, the state emphasized that there was no “legal earthquake” and that Honenu and the defendants’ parents were misleading the country.
The verdict in the mini-trial is expected mid-summer with the full trial to start later in the summer.
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