UN Committee Against Torture to probe Israel

Secret interrogation center, treatment of Palestinian detainees, barrier among issues to be discussed.

prisoner 248.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
prisoner 248.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Israel is likely to answer questions on its treatment of Palestinian detainees, the alleged existence of a secret interrogation center known as Facility 1391, the closure of the Gaza crossings, and the West Bank security barrier when it appears before the UN Committee Against Torture in Geneva on Tuesday and Wednesday. The Jewish state is one of seven countries under period review this year by the committee, which has received reports on Israeli violations of the UN Convention Against Torture from at least eight NGOs, including B'Tselem, Hamoked Center for the Defense of the Individual, Physicians for Human Rights and Amnesty International. In a report submitted to the committee in late 2007, Israel said it had made improvements in a number of areas relating to that convention since it last submitted a report in 2001. Among them were legal changes regarding extradition, unlawful evidence, regularization of Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) activities and training security personnel about the Torture Convention. But in February, the UN committee sent Jerusalem an eight-page document listing its concerns. It quizzed Israel on what it considered lengthy detention of those suspected of criminal and security offenses without immediate access to an attorney. The committee said it wanted information on the IDF's policy of holding the family of a suspected terrorist for an indefinite period as a pressure tactic. The committee also said it was concerned about allegations that the Shin Bet was operating a secret detention and interrogation facility known as Facility 1391, where detainees had no access to the International Committee of the Red Cross. It asked Israel to explain allegations that Palestinian detainees were beaten, bound, denied sleep and placed in odd positions such as crouching in a frog position or bending their backs in a banana position. Why, it wanted to know, were interrogations not videotaped? Additional allegations were made that Palestinian security detainees were kept in solitary confinement in cells that ranged from 3 to 6 square meters with no windows or access to daylight or fresh air. It said the location of Israel's jails for security detainees was problematic because all but one was inside Israel. This prevented family visits because most of the relatives could not obtain permits to enter Israel from the West Bank or the Gaza Strip, the committee said. The panel wanted to know what use the state made of private security contractors at checkpoints along the route of the West Bank security barrier, and noted that there were allegations of mistreatment committed by those contractors, including strip searches. The committee also said it believed the barrier violated the UN Convention Against Torture because it limited freedom of movement. In addition, it said, Israel's closure of Gaza borders since Hamas took over the area in June 2007 deprived 1.5 million Palestinians of their most basic rights. Separately, the UN panel took issue with Israel's policy of jailing conscientious objectors. It also quizzed Israel regarding an incident on August 19, 2007, in which it deported 48 people who had illegally crossed into the country from Egypt, allegedly without allowing them due process of law. Israel has responded to these points, but has not made that document available. In its report to the committee in 2007, however, it stated that Shin Bet procedures were in "full accordance" with the provision of the Torture Convention. It added that since its last report, thousands of security investigations had been conducted but a relatively low number of complaints had actually been filed - around several dozen a year. Most of them were found to be unjustified, but when they turned out to be true, measures were taken against those investigators.