Absolute Prohibition: The Torture and Ill-Treatment of Palestinian Detainees – HaMoked and B’Tselem publish a new report: The report is based on the testimonies of dozens of Palestinians who were detained and interrogated by the Israeli Security Agency (ISA). The report details the methods used by the interrogators, including beating, denial of basic needs, protracted shackling, humiliation and intimidation
In recent years Israel has officially admitted that ISA interrogators employ “exceptional” methods and apply “physical pressure” to Palestinian detainees in cases that it defines as “ticking bombs.” HaMoked and B’Tselem examined these interrogation methods and the frequency with which they are used, alongside other injurious practices. The findings of the report are based on the testimonies of 73 Palestinian residents of the West Bank detained during the period July 2005 – March 2006 and interrogated by the ISA. Although this group does not constitute a statistically representative sample, it provides valid indication of the frequency of the phenomena it reveals.
Some of the interrogees are questioned by the ISA after targeted operations undertaken by various military units, to after being detained in other circumstances. After arrest, the detainees are taken to one of the temporary incarceration facilities where they are usually held for the purpose of registration, screening, and a superficial medical examination. Some detainees undergo interrogation in the temporary facility, while others are taken directly to an interrogation facility without any intermediate stations. The detainees are subjected to violence in all their contacts with the authorities – during their arrest; in transit to the temporary detention facilities; in the detention facilities themselves; during transfer to the interrogation facilities; and during interrogation.
The testimonies show that approximately half the detainees are subjected to severe violence during their transfer from one facility to the next. They are handcuffed and blindfolded during this journey, during which punches, kicks, slaps, beatings with riffle butts, and the banging of their head against walls or the sides of jeeps are not unusual occurrences. The testimonies quoted in the report describe examples of human evil. A detail of soldiers disguised as Arabs strip a Palestinian in the middle of the night, shackle his hands behind his back, and beat him mercilessly. Soldiers force a man to run for no reason, beating him and extinguishing cigarettes on him. Soldiers slam the head of a 17-year old boy into an angled metal bar. Soldiers place a dog on a young man’s stomach in order to humiliate him. Detainees are denied basic needs, forced to urinate in a bottle, deprived of drinking water, and denied access to medicine and vital medical examinations. One Palestinian detainee was forced to stand in the sun for hours, without food or water. Another – a diabetes patient who suffers from kidney problems – did not receive water despite his requests.
The report describes in detail the methods used by the ISA in its interrogation facilities: Isolation from the outside world; the use of conditions of imprisonment as a means to apply psychological pressure and cause physical debilitation; shackling in the “shabah” position; cursing, humiliation, threats, and intimidation. Over half the interrogees stated that during the entire interrogation period they were isolated from the outside world – the ISA prevented their meeting with attorneys, representatives of the Red Cross, relatives, and with other detainees. Their only human interaction was with their interrogator – an interaction between torturer and victim. The physical conditions in the detention cells are harsh: mattresses are wet and foul-smelling; there is no ventilation and the cell is putrid since the detainee is forced to go to the toilet in the room.
The “shabah” position is a well-known method of interrogation. This term refers to the protracted and painful shackling of the detainee to a chair. The chair is fixed to the floor; its seat and backrest are made of rigid plastic, while the frame is made of metal. The interrogee is shackled with his hands behind his back. His hands are pulled under the seat, and his legs are shackled to the legs of the chair. The detainee is held in this position throughout the interrogation – sometimes for more than twelve hours. In some cases detainees were left in this position after the interrogation ended, while the air-conditioner cooled the temperature in the room to a very low level. The detainees are given just one meal a day, and are only allowed to use the toilet after numerous requests. In a ruling from 1999, the High Court of Justice (HCJ) ruled that detainees may only be shackled in order to prevent them escaping from custody, and not as part of the method of interrogation.
The interrogators also use threats and intimidations that are prohibited by law. In one case, the son of an interrogee was taken into an adjacent interrogation room. The interrogators allowed the interrogee to peek into the room and see his son, and told him that if he did not collaborate, his other sons would also be arrested. In another case the interrogators told a detainee that his colleagues were raping his wife in the adjacent room.
The report also quotes the testimonies of detainees who were defined as “ticking bombs.” The interrogators denied these detainees sleep for 30-40 hours and used severe violence against them, including punching, kicking, strangling, and other painful methods. Some of the detainees report the use of an elaborated version of the “shaking” method that was prohibited by the HCJ. Instead of shaking the interrogee forward and backward, the interrogators now use a “sudden pulling” technique. The interrogee is pushed or pulled violently, while shackled in the “shabah” position,” damaging his arms and wrists. The interrogees also describe sudden pushing of the head to one side by the use of the fist, or tight holding leading to pain in the neck. These methods are potentially life-threatening.
From the moment of arrest and through the end of their interrogation, the detainees suffer abuse, humiliation, and grave torture. The methods described are not essential for the purpose of the interrogation. They are a crime and reflect pure evil. The use of methods intended to break the spirit, soul, and body of interrogees deviates from what is acceptable under law – “a reasonable and fair interrogation.” The ISA personnel and other security personnel involved violate the interrogees’ right to dignity, liberty, and physical integrity – rights that enjoy constitutional and supra-legal status. International law defines such methods as prohibited abuse and even as torture. Some of the practice described endanger the life of the interrogee – examples include banging the head on metal objects or walls, denying access to medicine, and moving the head violently.
The acts of abuse and torture committed by ISA interrogators and soldiers against Palestinian detainees do not take place in a vacuum, but under the auspices of the Israeli law enforcement system. Although over 500 complaints have been submitted to the State Prosecutor’s Office since 2001 regarding abuse of interrogees by ISA officers, the office has not seen fit to instigate an investigation in even a single case.
Most cases of abuse of detainees by soldiers are never investigated; of those that are investigated, only a small proportion result in indictment. In many cases the reason for this are various systemic defects, such as protracted delays in instigating investigations. It may also be assumed that without a proactive and deliberate effort on the part of the authorities, the chances that the detainees themselves will complain of violations during detention are slight.
The interrogations regime imposed by the ISA also enjoys significant assistance from the HCJ, which functions as a rubber stamp approving the orders that regulate the holding of interrogees in isolation from the outside world. In recent years, the HCJ has not accepted a single petition out of hundreds filed against these orders. Indeed, the HCJ often permits the ISA to conceal from interrogees the fact that orders have been issued and legal proceedings conducted in their case, with the goal of heightening the psychological pressure imposed on the detainees.
In view of the grave findings of the report, HaMoked and B’Tselem urge the Israeli government to order the ISA to halt immediately and absolutely the use of any means of interrogation liable to injure the dignity or physical integrity of the interrogees; to initiate legislation absolutely prohibiting torture and humiliation; to prosecute those responsible for the abuse and maltreatment of detainees; to ensure minimum humane conditions for all detainees; and to document all ISA interrogations by video in order to permit effective review.
The response of the Ministry of Justice to the report reveals a refusal to address the interrogation methods it describes on the pretext of confidentiality. According to the Ministry of Justice, all the police officers, soldiers, and ISA personnel involved go out of their way to protect the rights of Palestinians detained following a suicide attack. The Ministry of Justice even notes that the military has issued educational software programs emphasizing the grave prohibition against the inhuman and humiliating treatment of detainees. The ministry adds that the ISA personnel inform the interrogees of their rights; explain that they are entitled to meet with an attorney; and emphasize that they are not required to incriminate themselves. Read the testimony of A.Z (Hebrew)
Read the testimony of M.H (Hebrew)