By Stephen Lendman
An October B’Tselem/HaMoked, Center of the Defence of the Individual report, titled "Kept in the Dark: Treatment of Palestinian Detainees in the Petach-Tikva Interrogation Facility of the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet)" is discussed below. Though, in some respects, treatment over the years has changed, it remains harsh, abusive, and in violation of international law, prohibiting all forms of torture and mistreatment at all times, under all conditions, with no allowed exceptions.
The report is based on testimonies from 121 Palestinian detainees during Q 1 and Q 4, 2009. Clear patterns of mistreatment were revealed – torture and abuse by any standard, what Israel practices as official policy.
Israeli law prohibits torture under Section 277 of its Penal Law, stating:
"A public servant who does one of the following is liable to imprisonment for three years: (1) uses or directs the use of force or violence against a person for the purpose of extorting from him or from anyone in whom he is interested a confession of an offense or information relating to an offense; (2) threatens any person, or directs any person to be threatened, with injury to his person or property or to the person or property of anyone in whom he is interested for the purpose of extorting from him a confession of an offense or any information relating to an offense."
Israel is also a signatory to international laws banning torture in all forms, including the 1984 UN Convention against Torture. Yet throughout its history, Israel’s military and security forces have willfully, systematically and illegally practiced torture against Palestinian detainees.
In three 1996 cases, Israel’s High Court legitimized use of violent shaking, hooding, playing deafeningly loud music, sleep deprivations, and lengthy detainments to continue these abuses. A 1999 ruling addressed so-called "ticking bomb" cases, approving physical force and other abuses, short of breaking a detainee’s spirit. Moreover, by allowing loopholes, torture’s current legal basis was established in Public Committee against Torture in Israel et al v. the Government of Israel et al (the HCJ Torture Petition).
Israel has no formal constitution. Yet its 1992 "Basic Law: Human Dignity and Freedom" authorized the Knesset to overturn laws contrary to the right to dignity, life, freedom, privacy, and property, as well as to leave and enter the country. The law states:
"There shall be no violation of the life, body or dignity of any person. All persons are entitled to protection" of these rights, and "There shall be no deprivation or restriction of the liberty of a person by imprisonment, arrest, extradition or otherwise."
Another Basic Law deals with "The Right to Life and Limb in Israeli Law." It implies that life is sacred, stating:
"Israeli law has abolished the death penalty for murder (and corporal punishment)." The 1998 "Good Samaritan Law" requires assistance be given in situations "of immediate and severe danger to another."
Overall, Israeli law affirms "Fundamental human rights founded upon recognition of the value of the human being, the sanctity of human life, and the principle that all persons are free." Israeli Basic Law exists "to protect human (life), dignity and (assure that) All government authorities are bound to respect (these) rights under this Basic Law."
One proviso, however, is disturbing. Israel is a Jewish state so all rights, benefits, privileges and protections apply only to Jews. Others are unwelcome, unwanted, unequal, and unprotected under Israeli law, even its own non-Jewish citizens. Moreover, despite binding international law, torture, abuse, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment aren’t unambiguously designated crimes under Israeli law, even though the 1977 Penal Law prohibits their use.
In addition, as Law Professor Marjorie Cohn explained in her May 6, 2008 article titled, "Under US Law Torture is Always Illegal:"
Torture, genocide, slavery, and wars of aggression have a common thread. "They are all jus cogens….Latin for ‘higher law’ or ‘compelling law.’ This means that no country can ever pass a law that allows" these practices. "There can be no immunity from criminal liability for violation of a jus cogens prohibition."
Testimony Evidence in B’Tselem/HaMoked Report
Testimonies showed arrests were made at homes in the middle of the night. In nearly one-third of cases, detainees were beaten or otherwise abused en route to interrogations. They were taken in military vehicles, forced to crouch or lie on the floor uncomfortably, not sit on a bench seat. They couldn’t bring any items with them, articles on their possession seized.
At Petach-Tikva, they were held in interrogation rooms or tiny cells. Thin mattresses in them took up nearly all available floor space. Ceilings were so low they could be touched. Most cells are windowless, making night and day indistinguishable. Ventilation at all times was artificial, 26% of detainees saying available air was either too cold or hot to increase discomfort. Artificial light stayed on round the clock. It caused sore eyes, impaired vision, and disrupted sleep.
Cell walls were grey, very rough and bumpy, making them uncomfortable or impossible to lean against. Over three-fourths of detainees were kept in isolation, without contact with other inmates even for a portion of their internment.
Sanitation and hygienic conditions were appalling, including squat toilets that reeked, filthy mattresses and blankets, and no materials to clean cells. In addition, many detainees got no change of clothing for extended periods, for some, during their entire stay. Moreover, 27% were denied showers, many saying they developed skin rashes as a result.
Interrogations were brutal. In special rooms, detainees were bound to fixed-to-the-floor chairs. Nearly all their movement was prevented. At times, they were kept in this position for lengthy periods, given only short food and toilet breaks. For some, they were held under these conditions during no interrogations with no one present.
Thirteen detainees reported sleep deprivation, lasting over 24 hours. For some, it lasted days with only short sleep breaks. Overall conditions restricted sleep, even when it wasn’t prevented or interrupted. Abuses reported included:
— 36% said interrogators cursed and verbally abused them;
— 56% were threatened, including by violence;
— 10% were threatened with "military interrogations," meaning ones entailing violence;
— 11% said interrogators detained family members to apply pressure; in one case, a 63 year old widow was brought to Petach-Tikva so incarcerated relatives could see her in detention; and
— 42% of detainees were held a week or longer after interrogations ended, some for a month or longer under the above described conditions.
Shin Bet treatment includes measures to cause suffering and break detainees’ will, including by inducing shock and anxiety. Detached from normal life, they’re subjected to extreme sensory stimuli, restricted movement, and human contact stimulation. These are then enhanced by sleep deprivation, too little and poor quality food, exposure to temperature extremes, and severe pain through forced positions, at times while shackled.
CIA manuals from the 1960s and 1980s were used as guides, the same ones adopted by Latin American dictatorships. Techniques in them inflicted severe pain and induced mental regression, practices designed to make detainees putty in interrogator hands.
Shin Bet interrogators are notorious for committing abuses. Since 2001 alone, the Ministry of Justice received 645 complaints. Yet criminal investigations followed none of them. During arrest and transfer to them, soldiers also commit violence despite Israeli law prohibiting it.
B’Tselem/HaMoked described practices "constitute cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, and in some cases constitute torture. All are prohibited, absolutely and without exception." Yet they persist with impunity. Shin Bet interrogators use cruel and abusive measures, "in clear breach" of international law and "the ordinary rules….governing (Israeli) police interrogations…."
Authorities justify them as a way to prevent terrorism. It doesn’t wash, nor is it likely true, even in so-called "ticking bomb" cases, a vague term with no legal validity. In addition, detainee mistreatment continues long after interrogations end. Imprisonment in Israel guarantees it, nearly always involving torture.
It persists because Palestinians are dehumanized, treated like a lower form of life. Moreover, claiming a "ticking bomb dilemma" is a red herring, yet it dominates public debate much like Islamophobia in America, equating Muslims with terrorists. In both countries, the rule of law is a non-starter, the rule of anything goes replaced it, a notion, of course, with no legal validity.
A Final Comment
On October 29, the Jerusalem Post headlined, "Report: Foreign Ministry prevents Geneva Convention meeting," saying:
Israel’s Foreign Ministry "succeeded in preventing a meeting of states which have signed the Geneva Convention, which could have resulted in a public statement that Israel has violated the charter during Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip during 2009, Army Radio report(ed) Friday."
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman also blocked the establishment of a Cast Lead victims’ compensation fund. Once again, Israel got off the hook even for its most egregious Palestinian war crimes since 1948. Despite clear evidence from the Goldstone and numerous other reports, the international community shielded Israel, granting it immunity and license to keep slaughtering, torturing, and otherwise abusing defenseless Palestinians and others in the region. When it comes to Israel and America, the rule of law no longer applies, a sad testimony to reality.
– Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org and visit his blog at: sjlendman.blogspot.com.