Knesset evaluating Shin Bet bill

Agency asks for greater leeway in dealing with security suspects.

diskin 298 88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
diskin 298 88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The Knesset Law Committee on Tuesday split on whether to accept at face value Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) insistence that greater leeway was needed to effectively interrogate security suspects, with several legislators asking for more evidence backing the agency's claims. The discussion centered on a draft government bill to grant security forces more time to interrogate suspects without bringing them before a court or allowing them to see their lawyers. The provision, which would be in effect for a limited period of time, would only apply to security and terrorist suspects. "Common criminals" would continue to be treated in accordance with the current law governing arrests. A Shin Bet representative told the committee the legislation was necessary since suspected terrorists from the Gaza Strip could no longer be interrogated in accordance with military law. Furthermore, since the IDF is no longer in Gaza and the intelligence gathering system there no longer exists, the interrogation of suspects is even more crucial for finding out about the terrorists' future plans, he said. Several MKs, including Azmi Bishara (Balad), Dov Hanin (Hadash) and Avshalom Vilan (Meretz), and representatives of human rights organizations such as The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, called on the committee to reject virtually every provision in the bill. MK Matan Vilna'i (Labor) insisted that the interrogation of Gazan suspects would not yield any information about plans to fire rockets or missiles from the Strip, while MK Colette Avital (Labor) said the Shin Bet had not provided any evidence to back its claims to the contrary. MKs David Tal (Kadima), Yitzhak Levy (National Union-NRP) and Nissim Ze'ev (Shas) said the Knesset should back the Shin Bet request and amend the current law. Committee chairman Menahem Ben-Sasson of Kadima decided to postpone the bill's scheduled second and third readings. Instead, he appointed a subcommittee to meet with representatives of the Shin Bet to hear an explanation - to include facts and figures - backing their request for the changes in the law. Under the terms of the bill, anyone suspected of threatening state security or perpetrating terrorist acts could be held without being brought before a judge for 96 hours. Currently, suspects may only be held for 24 hours, or in special circumstances, for 48. The bill under consideration would also allow security suspect to be remanded in custody for 20 days, as opposed to 15 days currently, and would mean that if a judge decides to review a case before the 20 days are up, the state would not be obliged to bring the suspect to court or to even inform him of the hearing. According to the bill, a security detainee could be prevented from seeing an attorney for up to 30 days, compared with 21 days under the current law.