Extension of detention law for security suspects approved

Legislation grants Shin Bet authority to deny security suspects access to judges and lawyers.

Gaza arrest 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Gaza arrest 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Only five members of the Knesset Law Committee were on hand on Wednesday to approve for final reading the extension of what was once highly controversial legislation granting the state far-reaching detention powers over security suspects. The bill, calling to extend the provisional legislation for 18 months, was passed by a vote of four to one. The legislation grants the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) authority to deny security suspects access to judges and lawyers, far exceeding the powers granted to police in the case of "regular" criminals. For example, the state may detain a security suspect for up to 96 hours before having to bring him before a judge to extend his remand. After that, it may prevent the suspect from again seeing a judge until the 20th day from the day of his arrest. If there are any more remand hearings between the first one and the 20th day of the suspect's arrest, they may be held without the suspect being present. Should the judge agree to remand the suspect after the 20th day, the court may hear more remand requests without the suspect being present for 15 more days. The court is empowered not to inform the suspect of the proceedings that have taken place in his absence. Furthermore, the suspect may be denied consulting a lawyer for up to 50 days, compared to 21 days in non-security-related investigations. The law was first passed in 2006 under heavy pressure from the Shin Bet and the government in the wake of disengagement from the Gaza Strip. Israel maintained that Gaza was no longer under belligerent occupation, thereby terminating all the rules that had been promulgated over four decades by the military commanders there. The army and government maintained that the civilian law that applied to the detention of criminals in Israel was insufficient to deal with suspects who needed to be intensively interrogated to uncover terrorist plots. At the time, the legislation met strong opposition in the Law Committee and in the public debate surrounding it. A key aspect of the law, Deputy State Attorney Shai Nitzan told the committee before Wednesday's vote, was the issue of the "continuity of the interrogation." He said that for the interrogation of a suspected terrorist to be effective, it should not be disrupted. The only strong opposition to the bill on Wednesday came from Hadash MK Dov Hanin, who is not a member of the committee and therefore did not have the right to vote. Hanin said the provisional law did not take a comprehensive view of all the issues that it affected and did not create a proper balance between human rights and security needs. Using provisional laws to implement measures that threatened human rights was a step on the "slippery slope" toward permanent violations of human rights, he said. "Nothing is more permanent than the temporary," he warned. Acting committee chairman Yitzhak Levy (National Union-National Religious Party) said the bill constituted a "little" bad in order to combat the "huge" evil of terrorism.