Analysis: The hypothetical Arafat Jaradat videotape

Does prisoner’s death disprove the state’s logic in rejecting a recommendation on videotaping Shin Bet interrogations?

Arafat Jaradat 370 (photo credit: Ammar Awad/Reuters)
Arafat Jaradat 370
(photo credit: Ammar Awad/Reuters)
On February 7, 2013, the second part of the Turkel Commission report made a number of recommendations for changes in various security policies, including one calling for the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) to videotape all of its interrogations.
With chaos spreading throughout the West Bank as outraged Palestinians riot over the death of Arafat Jaradat while in Shin Bet custody – reportedly between interrogations – and accusations of torture and calls for an international investigation continue, it is worth asking how all of this could have gone differently if his interrogations had been videotaped.
Although many other recommendations are being taken seriously by top government legal officials, who spoke under the condition of anonymity to The Jerusalem Post following the publication of the report, the state has already opposed the idea at least in one case recently brought before the High Court of Justice.
The High Court itself may some day weigh in on the issue, but it has thus far sent the signal that, at least for now, that it does not want to get involved.
Most of the Turkel Commission’s recommendations are being taken seriously because it is viewed as being objective and unbiased against Israel, and of impeccable legal stature.
Regarding videotaping specifically, one might have thought the recommendation would be heavily strengthened because it was supported by widely admired former Shin Bet head Yuval Diskin – incidentally shocking the commission officials and many others.
The same day that the report and Diskin’s bombshell were published, the state attorney on behalf of the Shin Bet told the High Court that videotaping interrogations was a danger to national security, and would allow terrorists to understand and overcome the security agency’s interrogation tactics.
The next day, the court struck down the petition, saying that compelling the Shin Bet to videotape interrogations would be premature, ignoring both the commission and Diskin.
What if – as a result of the current Shin Bet head having taken the same line as Diskin or the High Court having intervened – a new policy was initiated and Jaradat’s interrogations were on tape? An official autopsy performed by Israel listed bruising on Jaradat’s shoulder, chest and elbows, as well as fractures of two of his right ribs.
Israel says Jaradat’s autopsy, carried out in Tel Aviv in the presence of a Palestinian coroner, revealed no signs of violence, and that the trauma caused to his body came from the medical emergency team’s efforts to resuscitate him after he collapsed. The Palestinian Authority, on the other hand, claims that Jaradat, whose official cause of death was listed as a cardiac arrest, died as a result of torture during interrogation.
Few neutral observers are going to be easily convinced that so many injuries were caused by attempts to resuscitate someone, even if that is a possible explanation.
Doesn’t sound good, but how about just pulling out the tape and showing that Jaradat wasn’t beaten (assuming he wasn’t) during his interrogation? Oh wait, there is no tape.
First of all, there are obvious moral and legal questions about Jaradat’s treatment that could be resolved much more efficiently and more objectively if there was a tape.
If he was not actually injured during interrogation, from a purely self-interested point of view, the state will now still need to pour tremendous resources into questioning and possibly disciplining the various persons in the security establishment who had access to Jaradat.
After all of those resources are poured in, no matter how thorough the investigation, a cloud of controversy will hover over the event, and there will be continued calls for an outside investigation, which while unlikely, may also still occur.
In terms of the outbreak of Palestinian rage, one could argue that this may have occurred anyway based on other events and disputes between the Palestinians and Israel.
But it is hard to argue that Jaradat’s death did not provide either a justification or an excuse (depending on one’s political views) for what has occurred and that the situation might have been better contained if a videotape could have distributed or posted showing what actually happened.
If Jaradat was injured during interrogation, a videotape would allow authorities to move quickly against the interrogators.
If there needs to be a housecleaning, many public relations experts say that a fast one is better than a cover-up or a slow one that is perceived as a cover-up.
That is not to say that a videotape would end the debate. There could always be accusations that Jaradat was attacked off-camera.
Additionally, the state might not be able to reveal the tape publicly because of sensitive intelligence content. And maybe at the end of the day all of the possible benefits of videotaping are outweighed by the disclosure of interrogation techniques and revelation of intelligence sources.
But if there were tapes, the state would have a chance to make a choice on the issue, whenever it arose. Especially, in this case, where Jaradat was only potentially being accused of throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails (worse than just rocks, but a far cry from shootings or bombings), the chances of being able to use the tape might have been higher.
The fact is that regardless of what actually happened, Israel may now have less leverage and less of an ability to quickly get to the truth than it would be if it could show a tape to the world.