Oversight czar appointed for torture complaints against Shin Bet

Decision comes after oversight body was ‘headless’ for a year.

By
August 27, 2019 04:35
3 minute read.
Guy Asher

Guy Asher. (photo credit: JUSTICE MINISTRY'S SPOKESPERSON)

The Justice Ministry announced the appointment on Monday of an oversight czar for its authority which mainly oversees allegations of torture by Palestinians against Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) interrogators.

Guy Asher, 40, replaces Jana Modgavrishvili, who left the job a full year ago – meaning the unit, which is already tiny, had no director.

The lack of a head brought on criticism that the ministry was not taking the issue of torture allegations seriously, mostly from the Left, but also a bit from the Right because of the use of enhanced interrogation against Jewish suspects in the Duma Jewish terror case.

Asher served the last 10 years as a senior member of the Police Investigations Department both regarding interrogations and operational issues as well as having a background in Israel’s security forces.

He has a BA in political science and an MA in law, both from Bar Ilan University.

The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) praised the fact that an appointment was finally happening, while expressing regret that it had taken so long.

PCATI said it hoped that Asher would reduce the lag time for decisions regarding open cases, which it said currently stands at around 39 months on average, “a grossly unreasonable length of time which thwarts justice.”

The group, which takes the lead in monitoring many of the probes of Shin Bet interrogators, said it is waiting for decisions in 37 cases, 15 of which are more than five years old.

It added that it hoped Asher would “improve the public’s faith” in the oversight unit in light of the unit’s record of only opening one criminal investigation out of around 1,200 complaints dating back to 2001.

PCATI said that the near zero number of criminal investigations “raises the suspicion of whitewashing as opposed to seeking truth.”

Though most cases are regarding Palestinians, 2019 was a big year for attention to allegations of the Shin Bet and police mistreating Jewish terrorism suspects.

In March, the state prosecution was dealt a major blow when it was forced to withdraw one of its three flagship Jewish terror cases because a confession obtained by authorities was declared to be coerced. Following the decision, the Justice Ministry could not give a date when a new permanent chief investigator would be appointed.

The stunning reversal came after another blockbuster ruling nixing the confession of a Jewish minor for having perpetrated the arson of Jerusalem’s Dormition Abbey arson on the grounds that the confession was coerced.

Normally, a series of such big cases cratering would cause tremendous upheaval regarding how the Shin Bet probes Jewish terror cases in the future since there has been significant public debate about whether the agency’s recent tougher tactics go too far.

However, despite Modgavrishvili giving the Justice Ministry a full year notice about her intent to step down in September 2018, there was no permanent replacement to address the two failed cases in March. Only with Monday’s appointment is there an authority figure in place to potentially address the failures in the investigatory process which led to the mentioned cases falling apart in spectacular fashion.

In January, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan asked the units responsible for probing police and Shin Bet misconduct to investigate their conduct toward the Dormition Abbey defendants.

At the time, when The Jerusalem Post confronted a spokesman for Erdan if he knew that no such probe could be conducted because the unit for probing the Shin Bet was headless, the spokesman appeared surprised.

Modgavrishvili was the first head of the unit within the Justice Ministry, which was moved out of the Shin Bet for the first time in 2014 despite opposition by the security agency.

Even during Modgavrishvili’s tenure, the unit itself lacked sufficient manpower to vet its cases without falling sometimes two to three years behind.

Primarily the unit investigates complaints by Palestinian suspects alleging Shin Bet torture. But with a rise in Jewish terrorism indictments in recent years, it has seen an increasing number of complaints from Jewish detainees as well.

In 2017, the unit was also given the role of probing the PID itself.


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