Rights groups: ISA tortures detainees

Say Mazuz, security forces didn't seriously investigate hundreds of complaints.

nabbed pal 298 courtesy (photo credit: Yitzhak Elharar)
nabbed pal 298 courtesy
(photo credit: Yitzhak Elharar)
Despite a 1999 High Court ruling prohibiting pain-causing interrogation techniques, the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) continues to torture and degrade Palestinian detainees in violation of international law, human rights spokespersons charged on Tuesday. Moreover, one of the spokespersons said the government had ignored a 1994 Justice Ministry decision to transfer the investigation of complaints against Shin Bet interrogators from the Shin Bet to the independent Police Investigations Department. These allegations came during a conference in Jerusalem sponsored by United against Torture and the Public Committee against Torture in Israel (PCATI). Attorney Eliahu Abram, the legal director of PCATI, charged that the Shin Bet, in collusion with Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz and State Attorney Eran Shendar, did not seriously investigate complaints of torture allegedly carried out by Shin Bet interrogators against Palestinian detainees. He said his organization had filed hundreds of complaints against the Shin Bet with the state prosecution, but that the attorney-general had not ordered a single criminal investigation so far. "The truth is that these complaints are not examined," said Abram. "This is the cover-up that the government uses to convince well-meaning people that there is no torture in Israel." Other speakers maintained that although the Shin Bet did not systematically use the torture techniques that were outlawed by the High Court or similar, pain-causing methods, it continued to employ them in some instances and had found new ones to humiliate and dehumanize the detainees. PCATI attorney Samah Elkhatib-Ayoub said that since the beginning of the second intifada, her organization had received complaints from detainees on a daily basis of "new, original and more sophisticated interrogation methods than in the past." These included hanging detainees upside down by their feet and hands, tearing out beards, choking, applying the banana bend (in which the detainee's hips and chest are pulled back), and the half banana bend, applying the frog squat and violent shaking. Elkhatib-Ayoub said that in addition to these methods, detainees were also beaten by soldiers between their arrest and transfer to the interrogation facility, barred from seeing a lawyer, and held in substandard detention conditions. According to Yehezkel Lein, research director of B'Tselem, The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, "the Shin Bet uses interrogation methods involving severe humiliation against detainees to break their spirit, without, in most cases, using direct violence against them." Lein said a "small minority" of the detainees interviewed by B'Tselem were subject to the pain-causing methods described by Elkhatib-Ayoub. However, most of the detainees were subject to "different kinds of degrading treatment [than those used up to 1999], which do not involve direct physical violence but can be just as painful and harmful." These methods include holding the detainees in solitary confinement in cells of three square meters in which the walls are so rough that the detainee cannot lean on them for support, the mattresses are wet and foul-smelling, the toilet is a hole in the floor, there is no natural light, a bulb burns 24 hours a day giving off enough light to make it difficult to sleep but not enough to enable the detainee to see properly, there is no way to tell what time of day it is, the food is poor and insufficient, during the waiting period in the interrogation area the detainees are seated on small chairs with their arms handcuffed behind their backs, and they are threatened by the interrogators, he said. "The consequences of emotional torture can be more severe than physical torture," Lein concluded. These were the methods that PCATI had complained about to Mazuz, said Abram. According to the law, the police are obliged to open an investigation regarding any complaint involving a felony. However, in the case of the Shin Bet, he continued, the complaints were sent to a Shin Bet official appointed by the organization to investigate complaints of detainees. Abram said that former justice ministers David Liba'i and Dan Meridor had determined that it was improper for the Shin Bet to investigate itself and that the investigations should be conducted by the PID. Nevertheless, after the High Court ruling in 1999, then attorney-general Elyakim Rubinstein continued to refer complaints of abuse to the Shin Bet. "The justice minister's guidelines remained on paper," said Abram. Abram charged that the Shin Bet official does not investigate the complaints and sends meaningless findings back to the state prosecution. In one case, for example, PCATI complained that a detainee had been held in solitary confinement, said Abram. The State Attorney's Office replied, on the basis of the Shin Bet official's findings, that there were no solitary confinement cells in Shin Bet facilities. Abram said that the reason why Mazuz and Shendar went along with these lies was that they lacked the will to confront the Shin Bet.