December 21: Torture and the truth

If Honenu’s reports are true (the Shin Bet denies them) they should be a cause for concern for a number of reasons.

Police arrest Meir Ettinger (photo credit: TAZPIT)
Police arrest Meir Ettinger
(photo credit: TAZPIT)
Torture and the truth It is not often that settlers and politicians from the Bayit Yehudi party find a common ground with leftwing human rights activists from B’Tselem.
But that is precisely what has happened after reports emerged that the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) purportedly used torture methods to try to extract information from a number of Jewish youths – including minors – suspected of involvement in the July Duma firebombing that killed three Palestinians including an 18-month-old boy.
On Thursday, attorneys from Honenu, a legal organization that offers low-cost legal services to right-wing activists, held a press conference during which they provided accounts of physical violence and sleep deprivation the Shin Bet allegedly used against several “hilltop youths” held in custody for the past three weeks.
According to Honenu attorneys Adi Kedar, Itamar Ben-Gvir and Avichai Chajbi, the youths were kicked, slapped and hit in sensitive parts of their bodies, deprived of sleep, and forced to remain handcuffed to a chair for long periods. The Shin Bet reportedly ignored a physician’s opinion that one youth was physically unfit for interrogation and needed rest.
After hearing Honenu’s report, Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel (Bayit Yehudi) called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to convene the Ministerial Committee on the Shin Bet security service to discuss the claims.
Ariel called the accounts “chilling” and said they raised suspicions that “severe physical torture took place.”
Ariel’s concern was shared by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, which deals overwhelmingly with allegations of human rights abuses against Palestinians.
In a tweet, ACRI wrote, “The report by the lawyers of the suspects in the Duma terrorist attack... raises heavy suspicion that illegal methods of interrogation were employed, such as resorting to physical force.”
In a second tweet, ACRI wrote: “We would like to remind you that a High Court of Justice ruling on the use of torture was achieved by ACRI, the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel and the Hotline for Civil Rights and was based, among other sources, on reports by B’Tselem.”
If Honenu’s reports are true (the Shin Bet denies them) they should be a cause for concern for a number of reasons.
First, use of torture is against the law. In 1999, the High Court ruled that use of enhanced interrogation techniques was illegal except in cases of a “ticking bomb.” Thought the state has attempted to portray the detainees in the Duma case as potential ticking bombs, the fact is that the horrific crime has already been committed.
No case can be made for using extraordinary means to extract information to prevent a future crime.
Second, torture does not work. That was the conclusion of the US Senate Select Intelligence Committee report on the interrogation-and-detention program that the CIA launched after 9/11. The report, published in December of last year, showed that in all 20 cases the CIA most widely cited as evidence that abusive interrogation methods were necessary, the same information could have been obtained, and in many cases was obtained, through non-coercive methods.
Further, the interrogations often produced false information, ensnaring innocent people, sometimes with tragic results.
Third, use of brutal methods against detainees risks undermining citizens’ trust in the institutions of law enforcement and justice. There is already of crisis of faith in Israel’s institutions among many religious-Zionists youths. If it emerges that the Shin Bet did in fact use illegal torture methods, the feeling of alienation will only deepen.
Finally, the use of enhanced interrogation methods undermines the very underpinnings of democracy.
When the state tramples human beings’ basic rights – whether they be Palestinians or hilltop youth – it risks destroying its legitimacy as a democracy.
Those who truly care about the State of Israel have an interest in preventing the Shin Bet from overstepping its bounds – whether their political orientation is right-wing or left-wing.