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Use of Torture Against Palestinian Political Prisoners

The use of torture against Palestinian political prisoners and detainees in Israeli jails.

February 2000

Since its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, Israel has carried out over 600,000 arrests. Today, more than 500 Palestinian prisoners are still being held in Israeli jails without trial; 7 women detainees are held in Talmond prison; 120 are in poor health conditions; 25 are elderly men; approximately 60 are minors and children; 20 detainees are being held in solitary confinement; 40 detainees are Palestinian-Israelis; and 130 detainees are nationals of other Arab countries.

Palestinian political prisoners are subjected to egregious torture by the interrogators of the Israeli General Security Services (the Shin Bet). Torture is used routinely and systematically, even in circumstances where there is no evident threat to Israel’s “security.”

Torture is defined as the “… infliction of pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, for the purpose of obtaining information or confession by a person acting in an official capacity”- The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment of Punishment, which Israel ratified in 1991.

Israel remains the only state that has legislated for the use of torture. No country other than Israel has “legally” allowed the use torture in its “security” procedures.

In 1987, Israel decided to establish the Landau Commission to investigate allegations of torture against the General Security Service (GSS). However, its recommendations contributed to the systematic torture of hundreds of Palestinians each year. Later that year, it released its report with the exception of a secret appendix. The report stated that the GSS had used force in an unacceptable manner to the international community. Furthermore, the report confirms that GSS personnel had lied under oath about their activities.

The Landau Commission argued that the methods used by the GSS were not “clearly illegal” because the interrogators were “following the orders of their supervisors.” The secret appendix provided a detailed outline of the physical and psychological violent methods used and their assessment by the Landau Commission.

The Landau Commission’s findings are in violation of Israel’s obligations under the Convention. What is clear is that Israel, by adopting the findings of the Landau Commission and then keeping them secret from the Committee, has violated its reporting obligations under Article 19. Israel justifies this secrecy by referring to its rhetoric of “necessity and security.”

Between 1987 and 1994, the GSS interrogated some 23,000 Palestinians (Ha’aretz, 13 January 1995).

Interviews conducted between 1988 and May 1992 with more than 700 Palestinians indicate that at least 94% of those interrogated by the GSS were tortured or ill-treated (Al- Haq, Torture for Security). According to LAW, 20 Palestinians died as a result of ill treatment during their interrogation by the Shin Bet.

On September 15, 1999, the Ministerial Committee for GSS Matters, headed by Prime Minister Barak, appointed a committee to “find a lawful solution to the use of physical force in interrogations of terrorist suspects, where there is an immediate security danger.”

In October 1999, the draft Criminal Procedure (Powers and Special Interrogation Methods for Security Offences) Law, was introduced into Israel’s parliament (the Knesset.) This would allow the General Security Service (GSS) to continue to use coercive measures during interrogations.

Torture methods used by the GSS include the following: Al-Shabeh, suffocation, food deprivation, sleep deprivation and restriction of toilet facilities, beatings, “The Cupboard” treatment, Falaqa, pulling hair off the body, electric shocks and burning, threats, including death threats and violent shaking. (See below for further definition).

Israel is in breach of the object and purpose of the Convention against torture. It is also in grave violation of various other international treaties-- including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, the Fourth Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, the 1945 Charter of the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, Regulations annexed to the 1907 Hague Convention (IV), the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, the United Nations Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials, the Principles of Medical Ethics Relevant to the Role of Health Personnel in the Protection of Prisoners and Detainees Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Punishment, and numerous others.

Torture is perceived under International law as unjustifiable under any and all circumstances. The prohibition of torture applies to the use of any kind of physical or psychological force in interrogations. International law does not provide any conditions or reservations that sanction the use of torture or ill treatment in interrogations.

More than 100 states have ratified the Convention against torture, which means that they have accepted certain obligations to take effective measures to prevent acts of torture and to ensure the classification of such acts as “an offence” and, thus, punishable under their criminal law. Many national Constitutions, criminal codes, laws and regulations proclaim the prohibition of torture.

All confessions obtained under coercion or through the use of torture and ill-treatment are inadmissible in any court of law. The way in which information is obtained by Israel from Palestinian detainees is unlawful and in violation of Article 15 of the Convention--since they were obtained by unlawful methods. This information is also often undisclosed and is not passed to the Palestinian National Authority.

In 1991, Israel ratified the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1966; it remains, however, in breach of Article 7, which states, “ no one shall be subjected to torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

Israel is also in breach of section 2(2) of the Convention against torture which stipulates that, “ No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.

A 1994 State Comptroller’s Report, which was partially released in summary form in February of 2000, included very severe findings on the work of the GSS interrogation methods, such as disobeying the law, the Landau Commission guidelines, and the internal guidelines formulated by the service itself.

In February 1999, Shin Bet dropped its demand that the Knesset enacts legislation that would accord the secret service “ special means”-- a euphemism for physical or mental abuse-- to conduct interrogations. However, 46 Members of Knesset have agreed to sponsor a bill that will grant GSS interrogators the right to use physical force against detainees.

Whenever the subject of torture comes into question in Israel, the debate concentrates on the ‘ticking bomb’ theory which is the basis given for justifying torture in GSS interrogations. However, there is no justification for torture is acceptable whether on legal, moral, or security grounds.

Definitions of the common Israeli torture methods: 1. Al-Shabeh: a common technique exercised by shackling the detainee to a small chair or a wall, while covering the head with a sack that reeks of vomit and urine. The detainee is then deprived of food and sleep.

2. Suffocation: pressure is applied to the windpipe, which inevitably causes the detainees to lose consciousness.

3. Food deprivation: this is either partial or total during the interrogation process. Sometimes the hands are handcuffed while the detainee eats what is offered, usually small amounts of food or of poor quality.

4. Sleep deprivation and toilet facilities restriction: a detainee who is attempting to sleep would be prevented from doing so by loud noises and constant interference. Access to toilet facilities would also be prevented forcing the detainees to soil themselves, causing humiliation and emotional and physical pressure.

5. Beatings: the use of various tools, such as clubs, fists and boots aiming at sensitive areas such as the genitals, stomach, larynx and head.

6. “The Cupboard” treatment: detainees are put in a confined space (one square meter), in complete darkness, and almost completely closed. The detainee’s head is covered with a sack while locked into “the cupboard” for a number of days and is subjected to disturbing noises.

7. Falaqa: detainees are hand cuffed, hooded and laid on the ground in a position so that the bottom of their feet is facing up. Their feet are then whipped numerous times with a stick and/or a plastic hose--causing the victim to lose consciousness.

8. Pulling hair off the body: hair is forcefully pulled off very sensitive areas such as face, body and head.

9. Electric shocks and burning: these are administrated while the detainees are hooded or blindfolded. Lit cigarettes are used to burn sensitive areas of the victims’bodies.

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