Knesset considers bill that would permanently exempt police from recording interrogations

Police interrogations of non-security detainees would still be videotaped for offenses carrying heavy prison terms.

December 5, 2016 22:41
3 minute read.
Security Camera

CCTV security camera. (photo credit: INGIMAGE / ASAP)

The Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee on Monday sent a bill to permanently exempt police from videotaping security interrogations to its second and third reading in the full Knesset plenary in a move that would upend years of such exemptions being kept temporary.

On the flip side, the bill would require the police to have a live video-feed streaming of the interrogation to a monitor that Justice Ministry inspector could spot inspect without interrogators knowing.

However, the video-feed would not be recorded, meaning that any footage not witnessed in real-time would be lost.

The bill also indicated that the Public Security Minister and Justice Minister would need to make annual reports to the committee regarding the oversight mechanism.

Police interrogations of non-security detainees would still be videotaped for offenses carrying heavy prison terms.

Committee Chairman Nissan Slomiansky (Bayit Yehudi), MK Nurit Koren (Likud), Benny Begin (Likud), Michael Michaeli (Shas), MK Tali Ploskov (Kulanu) all voted in favor of the major change in policy, while Dov Henin and Osama Saadi, both of the Joint List, voted against.

Representatives of the Public Committee Against Torture (PCATI) and the Public Defender’s Office also opposed the new bill, while representatives of the Zionist Union and Meretz parties curiously either did not show up or showed up and left early without voting.

The Jerusalem Post has learned that the Zionist Union is likely to support the bill in the final Knesset plenary votes.

The current law requires interrogations of suspects of a crime with a punishment of 10 years or more to be videotaped. But a temporary measure has exempted security suspects since 2002, being extended approximately every three years, but never being made permanent.

Often Israel passes temporary measures when it pushes hard toward national security in the balance between national security and civil liberties in order to handle a perceived spike in terror threats, but refrains from making such measures permanent to show its commitment to civil liberties.

Slomiansky said, “when we are speaking about people who seek to harm the country, the obligation of the state to do all it can trumps.”

Supporters of the exemption generally explain that it is necessary to protect interrogation methods from leaking out and to “free” detainees to incriminate their co-conspirators while being able to later deny that they did so.

Begin expressed concern that the oversight might be inadequate and the inspections to infrequent, but still voted for the bill.

PCATI lawyer Efrat Bergman objected to the bill, stating, “without recording – there will be no objective evidence to show torture or an improper interrogation,” and cited the statistic that 1,000 complaints of detainee abuse over the last 15 years have failed to yield a single criminal investigation.

A Justice Ministry representative said the basis for the police video-feed program was a parallel proposal by the September 2015 Ciechanover Report (named for former foreign ministry director-general Joseph Ciechanover) for the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) which already has not had to videotape interrogations.

However, if installing a video-feed for Shin Bet interrogations might be seen by human rights groups as an improvement, for the police it might be seen as moving backwards – if it means that the exemption from video-taping switches from temporary to permanent as intended.

Passing the bill might also end a petition before the High Court of Justice that the temporary exemptions are unconstitutional.

In December 2015, the High Court heard oral argument over the petition and dismissed the state’s motion to dismiss the issue entirely, but seemed ready to have new Knesset legislation resolve the issue.

In February 2013, those arguing for videotaping Shin Bet interrogations gained a public relations coup as the quasi-government Turkel Commission (named for former Supreme Court justice Jacob Turkel), along with former Shin Bet director Yuval Diskin, recommended videotaping.

Critics have said for years that the Shin Bet abuses detainees’ rights and that the police also do sometimes, especially if there is no check on them through videotaping.

However, the Ciechanover Commission circumvented the Turkel Commission and Diskin by putting out the new video of the live video-feed.

But Saadi pointed out that it was unclear why the police needed an exemption to protect interrogation tactics if only the Shin Bet uses “moderate physical pressure” on some of its detainees.

The Justice Ministry representative responded that the police had an interest in keeping classified even police interrogation methods which were not “moderate physical pressure.”

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