Torture and Ill-Treatment in the terror state’s gulags
Israel’s ill-treatment and abuse of Palestinian detainees is widespread and systematic and typically starts from the moment of arrest. Most detainees, including children, report being beaten, kicked, threatened, having their property illegally searched and confiscated and their family home destroyed. Some also report the Israeli army’s use of police dogs and “sound bombs” at arrest. On occasion, relatives and neighbors of detainees report being used as human shields. The Israeli soldiers routinely fail to present arrest orders.
Once bound and blindfolded, detainees typically are not informed of the reason for their arrest and neither they nor their families are informed where they will be taken. Detainees may be kept waiting, standing or kneeling for long periods of time before being thrown on the floor of a military jeep, sometimes face down, for transfer to an interrogation center. During the transfer, which can take up to several hours, the abuse continues and usually takes the form of beatings, insults, threats and deliberate humiliation.
On arrival to an interrogation and detention centre, the detainee is either placed in a cell, often in solitary confinement, or taken straight for interrogation. During the interrogation period, he/she is typically subjected to some form of either physical or psychological cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. The methods of ill-treatment most frequently alleged to be used during interrogation include:
- Routine methods: sleep deprivation by means of continuous and prolonged interrogation sessions, excessive use of handcuffs for extensive periods and their tightening to cut off circulation; beatings; slapping; kicking; verbal abuse and intentional humiliation; and the use of threats directed at the detainee or a family member, including threats of arrest of a family member, threats of sexual assault against the detainee or his/her family member, threats of house demolitions, and threats of killing.
- Special methods also referred to as “military interrogation techniques” used in “ticking bomb” cases and justified under the banner of “necessity defense”: the use of painful stress positions, where the detainee is bent backwards over the seat of a chair causing back pain, or forced to stand for prolonged periods against a wall with bent knees; pressure on different parts of the body; strong shaking of the detainee; strangulation and other means of suffocation.
- Inside the cells: long periods of solitary confinement in small, windowless and, often, cold cells; sleep deprivation; deprivation of the right to basic hygiene products.
DENIAL OF FAIR TRIAL RIGHTS AND LACK OF PROTECTION UNDER INTERROGATION
- A Palestinian facing charges in the military courts can be held in custody for eight days before being brought before a judge. An Israeli citizen, however, can be held in custody for only a maximum of 24 hours before being brought before a judge.
- A Palestinian can be held without charge, by order of a military judge, for an initial period of up to 90 days. This period can be extended for another period of up to 90 days by request of the Chief Area Legal Advisor for the oPt, via an order from the military court of appeals. In total, a Palestinian can be held for the purpose of interrogation for 180 days. By comparison, an Israeli citizen can be held without indictment for an initial period of 30 days, which can be extended three times in 15 day increments on the authority of the Attorney General.
- A Palestinian detainee can be held for up to 90 days without access to a lawyer. By comparison, in the Israeli civil courts, a detainee charged with a security offense can be prevented from consulting an attorney only for up to 21 days.
DETENTION CONDITIONS AS PRESSURE DURING INTERROGATION
Harsh detention conditions in interrogation centres, including the use of solitary confinement, are often used as a means of exerting psychological pressure on the detainee, coercing him/her into giving confessions, sometimes about crimes he/she has not committed. The often windowless, individual cells usually only contain a mattress and a Turkish toilet, falling short of acceptable hygiene standards. During the interrogation period, detainees are prevented from communicating with their family and from access to books or the media. Their only contact with the outside world occurs during lawyers’ or ICRC delegates’ visits. At times, detainees are prevented from changing clothes or showering for prolonged periods of time.
In most cases, the purpose of these coercive techniques is the extraction of confessions that are then used as primary evidence against the detainees in their trial before the military courts, regardless of whether or not they actually committed the offence they are being accused of. In addition, Palestinian detainees held for interrogation are routinely made to sign confessions written in Hebrew, a language few of them understand, and which further restricts their right to a fair trial.
INSTITUTIONALIZED IMPUNITY AND LACK OF ACCOUNTABILITY FOR VICTIMS OF TORTURE & ILL-TREATMENT
The use of physical pressure against prisoners and detainees is less common since the 1999 High Court ruling in The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel v. Government of Israel, which placed certain restrictions on the use of torture during interrogation. However, under the court’s decision, “moderate physical pressure” was allowed to continue in the “necessity of defence” and in “ticking time-bomb” cases. Despite the landmark court ruling, Israeli interrogators today continue to use forbidden interrogation techniques as explained above. As Israel can legally hold detainees incommunicado for up to three months, Israeli Security Agency (ISA) interrogators are able to use methods of torture with impunity.
Lack of Investigations of Israeli soldiers
Criminal investigation of members of the security forces who commit offenses against Palestinians and their property in the West Bank, ranging from manslaughter to abuse to looting, is under the responsibility of the Military Advocate General (MAG), the Military Police Criminal Investigation Department (MPCID) and the Department for the Investigation of Police Officers in the Ministry of Justice. These law enforcement agencies have been under severe criticism for their investigation of suspects and prosecution of members of the security forces accused of committing such offenses. According to Yesh Din, during the second intifada, 90 percent of MPCID investigations ended with the files being closed and without indictments being filed. The Israeli Occupying Forces (IOF) have largely failed to investigate and indict soldiers involved in criminal offenses against Palestinian civilians in the oPt. In justifying this policy, the MAG’s office contends that since the beginning of the al-Aqsa intifada, an armed conflict has been taking place in the oPt, and that the IOF, therefore, is not automatically required to investigate every attack on civilians.
Lack of Investigations of ISA officers
If a complaint is filed, investigations are confidential and led by an ISA inspector under the authority of the State Attorney General. Complaints of torture are routinely closed by the Attorney General and steps are never taken against interrogators.
When complaints are filed against an ISA officer, they can typically be referred to two different bodies, both under the authority of the Attorney General. The first is the Mavtan Unit, which is the Department of Investigations of Police Officers (DIPO) at the Ministry of Justice. According to the Ministry of Justice, the head of the Mavtan is an individual directly appointed by the Ministry. The second is the Inspector of Interrogees’ Complaints, a high-ranking ISA officer with previous experience in conducting interrogations, who is required to report directly to the Attorney General’s Office. Although both avenues are available for the conduct of criminal investigations into allegations of torture and ill-treatment, in practice, complaints are usually referred directly to the inspector rather than the DIPO. What’s more, according to the Public Committee Aagainst Torture in Israel (PCATI), the recourse to DIPO has not been used once in recent years. The inspector, a former ISA officer himself, is thus responsible for investigating both his ISA colleagues and the detainee who registered the complaint. The conflict of interests in this matter is clear and undermines a detainee’s right to an independent and impartial investigation.
According to PCATI, all torture allegations and complaints are either denied or justified under the banner of “necessity defence” and none of the 621 complaints submitted between September 2001 and September 2009 resulted in a criminal investigation. In a few isolated cases, disciplinary measures have been applied against ISA officers, but none included harsh measures such as fines, dismissal or demotion.
ILL-TREATMENT IN PRISONS: PUNITIVE MEASURES TAKEN AGAINST PALESTINIAN DETAINEES AND PRISONERS:
The Israeli Prison Service (IPS) imposes harsh penalties on prisoners in response to strikes, protests or disobedience such as prisoners’ failure to show up for morning or evening counts or their refusal to allow searches. Punishments include:
- Preventing detainees from buying goods from the canteen and from receiving financial allowance for a period of six months;
- Imposing solitary confinement for long periods as a ‘disciplinary penalty’;
- Imposing collective punishment as a punishment for an individual prisoner’s violation;
- Confiscating personal belongings, including electronic devices;
- Preventing detainees from pursuing their education;
- Depriving prisoners from their recreation time for prolonged periods;
- Cutting off water and electricity;
- Freezing detainees’ special canteen accounts;
- Breaking into rooms and opening fire in the air;
- Conducting late night searches;
- Imposing fines on detainees;
- Preventing detainees from performing the Friday prayer in a group;
- Denying family visits for prolonged periods.
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