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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The High Court of Justice on Wednesday ordered Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) interrogators to inform a Palestinian detainee that his wife had not been arrested and placed under interrogation, as they had previously told him.
The ruling could be the first step in abolishing the Shin Bet interrogation technique, said human rights lawyer Eliahu Abram.
The court's decision came in response to a petition by the Public Committee against Torture in Israel (PCATI) on behalf of Mahmoud Sueti, 31, from Hebron, who was arrested February 1.
According to the petition, written by PCATI attorney Labib Haviv, Sueti's father and wife were informed by the IDF on February 19 that they could visit him in jail and bring clothes and utensils. When they arrived the following day at the Etzion Military Detention Center, the father was forced to don prison clothes and he and his daughter-in-law were then shown to Sueti to make him think they had been arrested.
The Shin Bet used the deception to break Sueti's spirit and get him to divulge information.
A few days after the incident, Haviv found out that Sueti, who believed the Shin Bet ruse, had become depressed and tried to commit suicide.
The petitioners demanded that the Shin Bet immediately inform Sueti that his father and wife had not been arrested.
Even before the hearing was held, the Shin Bet informed the court they had already told Sueti that his father had not been arrested. The petitioners insisted that the Shin Bet also tell Sueti that his wife had not been detained.
In a short ruling that dealt only with the specific case of Sueti, the court granted the petitioners' request.
Abram, who is the PCATI legal adviser, told The Jerusalem Post the judges appeared to be sympathetic toward the petitioners. At one point, Justice Elyakim Rubinstein asked the state representative whether he really thought that dressing up the father as a prisoner was proper.
While the petition was being heard, PCATI decided to turn it into a case of principle, whereby the court would be asked to declare that the Shin Bet technique of deceiving detainees by claiming that members of their family had been arrested constituted illegal psychological pressure.
Other human rights groups, including Moked in Defense of the Individual, B'Tselem and Physicians for Human Rights, asked to join the petition in lieu of the greater significance now attached to the issue.
The court rejected the request. However, as it routinely does, it informed the organizations that they could submit a new petition.
If they decide to do so, said Abram, Wednesday's court decision could mark a first step toward a landmark ruling banning the use of the interrogation practice on the grounds that it constitutes illegal psychological pressure.