Emergency law limiting detainee rights extended

Knesset c'tee permits extending detention of security detainees without them being present in court, delaying access to lawyer.

Palestinian stone thrower detained 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Palestinian stone thrower detained 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In a high-stakes meeting that sparked a heated debate, a Knesset committee extended on Monday a controversial emergency law on detainee rights – with unusual limitations, relative to other democracies – until the end of 2014.
The Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee decided, regarding certain security detainees, to permit extending their detention without them being present in court, delaying court oversight and delaying access to a lawyer.
The Knesset approved the second and third readings of the measure by 32 to 9 votes, with one abstention.
All or part of the law was opposed by Labor MK Merav Michaeli, Yesh Atid MKs Adi Kol and Karin Elharar and Balad MK Jamal Zahalka.
“The Supreme Court annulled some of the law’s sections and the government is trying to recycle them,” Michaeli said.
“The Shin Bet wants there to be no limitations, but a legislator’s job is to weigh and preserve the interests of the state and its citizens.”
Michaeli was referring to a Supreme Court decision that determined that aspects of the emergency law that had been part of Israeli law were dropped, but later returned in a reduced state as temporary emergency laws.
The law was generally supported by committee head Likud Beytenu MK David Rotem, Labor MK Moshe Mizrachi, Hatnua MK Elazar Stern and Bayit Yehudi MKs Shuli Muallem and Orit Struck.
It was also vigorously supported by the head of the Shin Bet’s (Israel Security Agency’s) interrogations unit and Deputy Attorney-General Shai Nitzan.
A number of opposing MKs implied that since the law had been continually extended since 2006, they did not trust when the law enforcement establishment referred to the law as “temporary,” suggesting that this was merely a tactic.
The most heated part of the debate revolved around a provision in the law that permits the extension of a detainee’s detention for up to six days without the detainee’s presence.
The provision, which has no parallel in Israeli civil law, requires approval by a Supreme Court judge upon recommendation of the head of the Shin Bet’s interrogations unit and the attorney-general.
The provision also includes the safeguard that the state must appoint a defense attorney to be present at a hearing to extend the detainee’s detention, even if the detainee himself is not present.
Kol highlighted the fact that the Shin Bet representative had said that the provision had not been used in at least three years, and asked why the provision was necessary if the whole point of an emergency law is to deal with an imminent and temporary situation.
The Shin Bet representative said in response that “maybe tomorrow I will need to use this provision, and I won’t be able to save someone’s life.”
“This is an emergency provision and I pray that we won’t need to use it,” he continued, but added that “sometimes a pause in the interrogation can fatally harm the interrogation.”
Nitzan gave a spirited defense of the law, saying that “it is the Knesset’s right to vote it down,” but essentially implying that the committee would then have on its conscience any terror attacks that the law could have helped prevent.
Michaeli responded that “there is manipulation here, as if we just have this provision, we will save any threat to people’s lives, and that is not true.”
After the committee meeting, a representative of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel argued that there were multiple issues with the emergency law.
First, she said, the law was unnecessary, as there were powerful other tools at Israel’s disposal to deal with ticking-bomb scenarios, such as using military law applicable to Palestinians from the West Bank or declaring individuals to be enemy combatants.
Second, she said, democracies should be ready to pay some price to balance security with civil rights, arguing that it should be an overriding interest of the state to avoid even one unjustly prosecuted person. She did not make any suggestion as to which argument was more critical.
Zahalka went even farther, stating that the entire law was an example of a “document of violating human rights.”
Another controversial provision in the law permits the interrogation of a detainee for up to 96 hours without being brought before a judge to review the detainee’s detention.
Under Israeli civil law, a detainee must be brought before a judge within 24 hours, or within 48 hours in certain exceptional cases.
The emergency law also permits delaying a detainee’s first meeting with a lawyer up until 10 days with approval from a high ranking Shin Bet interrogator and up until 21 days with approval from a District Court president.
Under Israeli civil law, a detainee must have access to a lawyer without delay, or within 48 hours in exceptional circumstances.
Michaeli attempted to amend the emergency law by requiring the Shin Bet to videotape all interrogations.
The videotaping of all interrogations is a move that was recommended by the second report of the Turkel Commission, which examined the legality of Israel’s apparatus for investigating its own alleged violations of human rights during war and interrogations.
The report, publicized in February, generally received high marks from top state and military legal officials.
Despite the commission’s recommendation, the committee voted down Michaeli’s proposed amendment 5-4.
Another amendment by Rotem to extend the law until 2016 was also defeated.