Shin Bet, state attorney may split difference on changes

Analysis: Turkel Commission recommendations may end in compromise deal.

Turkel 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Turkel 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
As coalition negotiations are now showing on a daily basis, even the most important aspects of state in this country often get negotiated and resolved not all that differently from the back and forth one sees in the marketplace.
That may be what will happen with the two major changes in policy that Wednesday’s second report from the Turkel Commission recommended regarding the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).
The recommendations were that the internal investigations of complaints against Shin Bet interrogators be moved from “in-house” to the State Attorney’s Office, and that all interrogations be videotaped.
These recommendations are being taken seriously by top government legal officials, who spoke under the condition of anonymity to The Jerusalem Post last week.
They are being taken seriously because the Turkel Commission is viewed as being objective and unbiased against Israel, and of impeccable legal stature.
Regarding the videotaping, the recommendation is also heavily strengthened because it is supported by widely admired former Shin Bet head Yuval Diskin (incidentally shocking the commission officials and many others).
With that kind of support for a change, the change might appear almost inevitable.
However, events of the last few days suggest that what may happen is that one recommendation, moving internal investigations to the State Attorney’s Office, may get implemented, while the videotaping may be ignored or significantly whittled down.
The same day the Turkel report and Diskin’s bombshell were published, the state attorney on behalf of the Shin Bet told the High Court of Justice that videotaping interrogations was a danger to national security, and would allow terrorists to understand and overcome the Shin Bet’s interrogation tactics.
The next day the High Court struck the petition before it seeking to compel the Shin Bet to videotape interrogations.
The court, incredibly, did not mention either Turkel or Diskin, and taking only one day to decide, apparently did not think the issue was a close question.
As it does in many instances, the court appeared to take cover from directly addressing the meat of the dispute, using a technical “out” from deciding the case: that the issue was premature.
There are cases where a case being premature is a right and perfectly valid decision, but it is a strange decision in this particular case.
The 2002 law for interrogating suspects has a “temporary emergency” provision exempting certain “security” suspects from having their interrogations videotaped.
That “emergency” provision has been periodically extended multiple times now for 13 years, to at least 2015.
The petition to compel videotaping of Shin Bet interrogations was filed in 2010. Not exactly a brand new issue that one would rush to call premature.
What is more likely is that the court is taking a traditional stance of not intervening too much in security issues, so petitions to the High Court to videotape the Shin Bet are not going to go far.
How about the Knesset? When the state came to the Knesset in mid-2012, asking to extend the exemption from videotaping security interrogations for two more years, the Knesset decided that two was not long enough, and on its own extended the exemption for three years.
Then there is the fact that a top legal official told the Post last week that Shin Bet internal investigations are already being moved to the State Attorney’s Office, with a decision already almost made on who will head the new unit.
All of the above suggests that the Shin Bet, along with whoever in the government thinks along the same lines, has decided to split the difference – and made a tactical retreat on one issue in order to show that it is flexible, enabling it to draw a red line on the videotaping issue.
Alternatively, the Shin Bet may accept some videotaping, as long as it gets to choose when it occurs.
This makes sense for the Shin Bet from an institutional perspective, as videotaping would infringe more significantly on its autonomy.
Without videotaping,the method for investigating interrogations – even if the investigator sits in the State Attorney’s Office – will heavily depend on the Shin Bet’s presentation of background material and evidence. It can still control the flow and direction of the investigations indirectly.
Videotaping would truly make the Shin Bet subservient to the state attorney in a more radical way.
So while Turkel and Diskin may have influence, a deal may have already been struck on the issues in dispute that may end the public debate.
So go negotiations in the Middle East.