Shin Bet, NGO trade barbs over enhanced interrogation during kidnapping crisis

Media outlets report a senior military source saying Shin Bet has been using "moderate physical pressure” on certain Hamas agents to get information for finding the kidnappers.

IDF soldier on patrol in Hebron, June 18, 2014. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
IDF soldier on patrol in Hebron, June 18, 2014.
The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and an NGO, the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI), traded broadsides on Thursday over the possible use of enhanced interrogation techniques during the kidnapping crisis.
Late Wednesday, multiple media outlets reported that a senior military source said that the Shin Bet was using “moderate physical pressure” on certain Hamas agents to get information for finding the kidnappers.
The military source also reportedly said that the Shin Bet had gotten special approval for using “enhanced interrogation” from Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein.
The High Court of Justice declared torture in interrogations illegal in 1999, but left open an exception for “moderate physical pressure” if there were a “ticking bomb” in progress and such pressure could be used to stop, for example, a suicide bomber from reaching his target.
Responding to the reports, the PCATI said that if the reports were true, that the enhanced interrogation must be stopped immediately and that any pre-approval, as described, is illegal. The Justice Ministry has directing all questions regarding the reports to the Shin Bet.
The Shin Bet’s statement denied a change in policy during the kidnapping crisis, noting “the Shin Bet does not receive approvals to undertake interrogations from any authority. The Shin Bet carries out its interrogation policy according to its own authority, legally and according to law and the decisions of the High Court. Every interrogation by the Shin Bet receives oversight from the attorney-general.”
At least some of those in the media who filed the reports confirmed and stood by them, saying the information had come from a senior military source.
Asked for clarification of the seeming discrepancy between the reports and the Shin Bet’s statement, the IDF Spokesman requested additional time to provide clarifications.
While the Shin Bet statement did not confirm or deny whether it was using enhanced interrogation in the current crisis, the agency noted that it never confirms or denies the use of enhanced interrogation techniques.
Meanwhile, PCATI warned against granting “permission to interrogators in the current kidnapping affair to use ‘moderate physical pressure’ under the so called ‘ticking bomb’ procedure.”
The NGO expressed concern that dozens of detainees would be declared “ticking bombs” and that the state is engaging “in collective punishment against Palestinians.”
However, Hebrew University professor and former Foreign Ministry legal adviser Robi Sabel said that much of the media discussion misunderstood the High Court’s opinion on the issue. He said the court did not endorse the use of enhanced interrogation to thwart a ticking bomb scenario, but that in such a scenario there would not be a basis to convict a Shin Bet agent for reasonably using enhanced interrogation.
Defining the acceptable parameters for enhanced interrogation in a ticking bomb scenario, Sabel said that there must be credible evidence that an individual has operational information, and that simply being a Hamas member was not enough.
He added that, even in a ticking bomb scenario, torture such as pulling out toe nails or water-boarding is still prohibited, and that at most techniques such as sleep deprivation or uncomfortable seating might pass the test. Within these parameters, he concluded, it is possible to see the current kidnapping fitting into the High Court’s ticking bomb exception.
PCATI has pushed to narrow or eliminate the High Court’s exception.