Rights group: Remand hearings for Palestinians predetermined

Authors of Machsom Watch report: "Judges run court sessions like an assembly line."

palestinian IDF arrest (photo credit: AP)
palestinian IDF arrest
(photo credit: AP)
The outcome of remand hearings held in Israeli military courts for Palestinian suspects are frequently determined in advance without the suspect's lawyer having a genuine opportunity to defend his client, the human rights organization Machsom Watch said in a report published over the weekend. "The judges," wrote the authors of the report, Hagit Shlonsky and Hava Halevi, "run the court sessions exactly like an assembly line - as one detainee leaves, another enters. Hearings for the extension remand often take no more than two minutes each." The report, "Observations of Remand Extension Hearings in Israeli Military Courts During 2006," was based on 130 observations of remand hearings in six military courts: the Russian Compound in Jerusalem, the Petah Tikva lockup, Kishon Prison near Haifa, Shikma Prison in Ashkelon and two prisons in the West Bank. According to the law governing the Palestinians in the West Bank, a suspect may be arrested and held without a warrant for 96 hours and may be detained for eight days without being brought before a judge. After that, the judge may approve further remands for up to 90 days without charges being filed. After an indictment has been filed, the prosecution may ask the court to remand the suspect in custody until the end of proceedings against him, for a maximum of two years. The security forces may prohibit a suspect from seeing his lawyer for the first 30 days of his detention. The period may be extended for up to 90 days by higher authorities. The lawyer who appears before the judge in a remand hearing often has never seen his client or the allegations against him, the report said. Suspects brought from jail to the courthouse are blindfolded, handcuffed and sometimes in leg irons, according to the report. At the Ofer Military Detention Center, the researchers wrote, "While awaiting their turn to appear before the judge, the detainees are held in sealed iron cages measuring some three by four meters, with a small grille window. Sometimes, there are as many as 30 detainees in each cage, bitterly cold in winter and burning hot in summer." According to the authors, any Palestinian may be detained as a suspect - "children, youths, adults, women and the elderly, all alike." The age of criminal responsibility for Palestinian children is 12. The age of adult responsibility begins at 16. During remand hearings, while the investigation is proceeding, the material in the file is classified and cannot be revealed to the suspect or his lawyer, the report said. The researchers described a standard remand hearing as follows: "A remand extension hearing lasts between two and four minutes. When the detainee is brought into the court, the police investigator hands the classified file to the judge, who briefly looks through it - which takes a minute at most - and confirms that the detainee before him is indeed the suspect mentioned in the file. "The policeman usually asks for 15 to 22 days remand extension. The defense attorney who, as noted, may only now be meeting his client for the first time, and with no knowledge of the classified material in the file, does have the right of cross-examination. Generally, however, he will merely exchange a few quick words with his client, and then tell the court that the detainee agrees to the requested extension." "Our impression is that judges hearing applications for remand extension exercise no independent judgment," the authors said. "They do not hear witnesses, do not question the investigators or check the reliability of their reports." In response to the report, the IDF Spokesman said: "The report is made up of testimony gathered over the course of a year, and therefore this is not an issue that the IDF can respond to immediately. The organization did not request a reaction from us. It is unfortunate that the report was published before we were given a chance to respond. When we receive a copy of the report, then we will be able to respond."