Is administrative detention needed to fight terror?

Commentary: The Adnan case won't be the last time prisoners are held for a set period without charge or trial.

protesters outside Ofer prison_390 (photo credit: Reuters)
protesters outside Ofer prison_390
(photo credit: Reuters)
The issue of administrative detention for terrorism suspects has resurfaced in the headlines recently, following the two-month hunger strike launched by Islamic Jihad member Khader Adnan against his own detention.
Although Adnan is ending his strike after the state pledged not to renew his imprisonment, his case will not be the last involving administrative detention, in which prisoners are held for a set period without charge or trial.
Human rights activists condemn the measure as a gross violation of human rights, but defense officials argue that it is a life-saving tool that defends civilians from terrorist organizations – a tool that the civil criminal justice system is unable to provide.
According to B’Tselem – The Israel Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, the past 12 months saw an increase in the number of Palestinian administrative detainees, from 219 in January 2011 to 309 in January 2012.
“There are two reasons why administrative detention is used,” Maj.-Gen. (res.) Giora Eiland, a former national security adviser, told The Jerusalem Post. “The first is that you know someone is planning an attack, but you can’t prove it through a legal process. If you relied on the legal process, the suspect would go free, but the risk [to the general public] would be very high,” he added.
The second reason, and the one most commonly cited for administrative detention, is that the intelligence acquired on terrorism suspects has come from highly sensitive sources.
“The information is so classified that it can’t be exposed, even in closed-door court sessions,” Eiland explained.
In ordinary civil legal proceedings, police must present their evidence to a court, which then decides whether to keep the suspect in custody.
Eiland, who also served as the head of the IDF’s Operations Branch, said only the most senior defense levels are authorized to seek administrative detention. “This is someone who knows the real dangers of exposing the intelligence,” he said.
Administrative detentions have a six-month cap, during which security forces work to investigate the wider terrorist cell in which suspects operate.
In most cases, after two rounds of administrative custody, the case goes before the Supreme Court.