'Shin Bet interrogation methods illegal'

B'Tselem study says Palestinian prisoners are deprived of sleep, confined.

IDF arrest pal 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
IDF arrest pal 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) continues to torture security detainees, in violation of a 1999 High Court ruling and international law, the B'Tselem and Hamoked NGOs said in a report released Sunday. Seven interrogation methods used by the Shin Bet "fall mainly and clearly under the definition of torture, well beyond the gray zone between ill-treatment and torture. This conclusion is supported mainly by the descriptions contained in the testimonies, in accordance with which the suffering caused to the interrogees by the application of these methods cannot be considered anything other than 'severe' as this term is qualified in the definition of torture in international law," according to the report. The report is based on testimony from 73 Palestinians who were interrogated by Shin Bet agents at several facilities inside Israel. The sample included 34 "regular" detainees and 39 "senior detainees" who were transferred from their detention cell to a interrogation facility within 48 hours. The report was strongly criticized by Boaz Oren, deputy director of the Justice Ministry's Department for International Agreements and International Litigation. Oren wrote to Yehezkel Lein, the report's author, that "the report was based upon a nonrepresentative sample that seems to have been deliberately chosen, which distorts the reality prevailing in the course of arrest and interrogation of security prisoners." Oren also said the report failed to provide identifying details on the prisoners who had complained and that therefore the Shin Bet and the IDF could not investigate their allegations. The report classified the alleged maltreatment of detainees into three categories. The first dealt with the period of time between their arrest by the army or the Border Police and their transfer to a Shin Bet facility. Suspects complained that during that period they were beaten, and that soldiers applied plastic handcuffs tightly to hurt them, swore and humiliated them and denied them basic needs, including food, water, medicines and permission to relieve themselves. Once the detainees reached a Shin Bet interrogation facility, they were confronted with an "interrogation system" that includes not only the interrogation itself but the conditions of their incarceration, all aimed at breaking their spirit. These techniques were described as "routine" interrogation methods. According to the report, the detainees were isolated from the outside world. They were prevented from seeing their lawyers, International Red Cross officials, and family members during a large part of the interrogation process, which lasted an average of 35 days. Other methods included using the conditions of imprisonment, such as solitary confinement and poor food, to apply psychological pressure and to physically weaken them. Interrogators questioned them in the painful Shabah position - seating the suspect on a low chair with his hands cuffed behind his back, his head covered with a bag, and exposing him to loud music - cursed, humiliated, threatened and intimidated them, according to the report. After weakening the detainees physically and psychologically, the Shin Bet allegedly exposed them to Palestinian informers. According to the report, each of the methods applied constituted "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment," which is illegal according to the Convention against Torture and other Forms of Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment." The combined use of all these techniques, as they are implemented in the Shin Bet interrogation centers, could, in some cases, be defined as torture, the report maintains. In some cases, the Shin Bet applies what the report describes as "special" interrogation methods. These include severe sleep deprivation, beatings, tightened handcuffs, sudden pulling of the body, sudden twisting of the head, "frog crouching" and forcing the detainee to lie in the "banana position." Almost all of the "special" methods, as opposed to the "routine" ones, involve the direct and deliberate application of pain to the detainee and are therefore defined as torture. Some of the methods were outlawed by the High Court of Justice in its landmark 1999 ruling. The others, which were not included in that petition, are even more painful, according to the report.