The army and the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) shackle Palestinian security detainees as a form of torture and abuse, the Public Committee against Torture in Israel (PCATI) charged in a report issued early Tuesday morning.
According to the report, "the motives for the shackling are clearly improper and extraneous, including the causing of pain and suffering, punishment, intimidation and the unlawful extraction of information. The practice of shackling may be used by the various authorities as a tool for dehumanizing Palestinian detainees subject to the control of the occupying power."
Palestinian security detainees are shackled during every stage of the detention process, the report stated. They are shackled during arrest and throughout questioning by Shin Bet interrogators. While being transported to interrogation, detainees' hands are usually held behind their backs with plastic handcuffs. In many cases, the cuffing is excessively tight, the report charged.
"It seems that this cuffing serves not only to neutralize the capability of the detainee to escape or to attack the soldiers, but also as a means of 'softening up' the detainee and breaking his spirit as he is taken to the Shin Bet interrogation facility," the PCATI charged. "This practice may be seen as an act of intimidation, punishment and discrimination."
Regarding the use of tight handcuffs such as plastic ones, the report included an opinion by neurologist Dr. Bettina Steiner-Birmanns, who wrote that "the handcuffs may cause injuries to soft tissue, and abrasions, skin wounds and even fractures. The handcuffs also press on the nerves in the palms, thereby causing paralysis and a loss of sensation in the palms."
After the detainee arrives at the Shin Bet installation, he continues to be handcuffed throughout his interrogation and in his cell.
According to the report, there are two types of Shin Bet handcuffing. In the more common one, both the detainee's hands are shackled behind his back with metal handcuffs connected to the seat of the chair by a chain. The chair itself is fixed to the floor, and in most cases, the detainee's legs are also shackled.
The detainee is held in that position throughout the interrogation, which may last for up to 31 hours at a time. According to 137 affidavits examined by PCATI, 20 percent of all detainees sat that way for nine or more hours a day.
Another type of Shin Bet shackling is called "high handcuffing," in which not only are detainees' hands cuffed behind their backs, but handcuffs are also applied between their wrists and the elbows. This shackling is particularly painful, the report said.
According to PCATI, the shackling procedure meets the cumulative criteria of torture: deliberate intention, that it cause pain and suffering, that it be done with the purpose of extracting information and that there be official involvement.
Israel has signed the Fourth Geneva Convention, as well as international human rights conventions that prohibit cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
In a response to the charges included in the report, the Shin Bet said that "the shackling of security detainees by Shin Bet investigators is used to protect the physical safety of the interrogators and Prisons Service officials who come into contact with them, and to prevent them from escaping, and for no other reasons. Past experience, unfortunately, has taught us that suspects in security offenses have not hesitated to attack interrogators and have caused serious injuries. Thus, shackling them is an absolute necessity."
The Shin Bet spokeswoman added that last year, the agency extended the chain linking the handcuffs to the chair "in order to make it easier for the detainees." Furthermore, every complaint by a detainee that he has suffered pain from shackling is investigated, and the Shin Bet informs the detainee of the results.
The IDF responded that it "operates in accordance with international law and Israeli law and observes all the binding rules with regard to the detention of terrorist activists and wanted terrorists who endanger the security of Israel and its citizens."
It added that "the IDF policy is to take special care and safeguard the security and well-being of the detainees from the moment they are caught and in our possession."
However, the army said it considered any needless harm caused to detainees a grave matter, and that it "seriously examines any complaint of harm and acts with the full force of the law when needed."
It also asked the PCATI to provide additional details and statistics about complaints so it could investigate them comprehensively.
"At this moment, Central Command is conducting staff work headed by an officer with the rank of colonel to investigate the regulations and the handling of Palestinian detainees," the IDF said.