B'Tselem: Palestinians abused in Shin Bet facility
Two human rights groups release report based on testimonies of 121 Palestinians held in Petah Tikva detention facility, including claims of isolation and disgraceful hygienic conditions, continuous cuffing of detainees’ hands, sleep deprivation. State: Court rejected similar unfounded claims
The report reveals ill-treatment of Palestinian detainees, claiming that complaints on the matter have led to no criminal investigations. The State explained in response that the interrogations were being supervised, and that the court had rejected similar claims in the past.
The research, based on the testimonies of 121 Palestinians, reveals alleged severe human rights violations. The violations begin from the moment of their arrest and continue until the detainee’s transfer from the facility.
According to the report, the violations include cruel detention conditions in sealed cells, in isolation and disgraceful hygienic conditions, continuous cuffing of detainees’ hands in the interrogation room in a way that makes it impossible for them to move, sleep deprivation, and other methods that harm the detainees physically and mentally.
Nine percent of the witnesses related that the interrogators used physical violence against them in the interrogation room. Nine percent of the detainees reported that interrogators used physical violence in the interrogation room. According to the report, "The use of any one of these means, certainly their combined use, constitutes cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, and in some instances, torture. All are strictly forbidden under international law and Israeli law."
Cells lit 24 hours a day (Illustration photo: Ido Erez)
Thirteen of the 121 detainees reported of sleep depravation which lasted more than 24 hours. Thirty-six percent of the detainees said they were humiliated and cursed by their investigators, 56% reported of threats, and 9% said they were treated violently.
Many of the detainees reported that the interrogators used family members as a means of pressure: Thirty-six percent of the witnesses mentioned curses, threats, or acts of extortion regarding family members. In one case, a 63-year-old widow was held in the facility so that members of her family could see her suffering while under detention. Two days later, the woman was released without any charges brought against her.
Most of the cells are underground, or were perceived thus by the witnesses. The interrogation rooms, by contrast, are aboveground and have windows, enabling the detainee to know if it is day or night.
The witnesses stated that an electric bulb lights the cell 24 hours a day, and the detainee is unable to change its intensity or turn it off. This creates severe distress and causes eye pain, headaches, and vision problems.
The report's authors reveal harsh hygiene conditions: "One-person cells had a squat toilet that reeked; the mattresses and blankets were filthy; the detainees were not given the means to clean the cell, except in isolated cases and following insistent demand; 35% of the detainees were not provided a change of clothes for long periods and, in some cases, even during their entire stay in the facility; 27% of the witnesses were not allowed to shower.
'Ticking bomb dilemma artificial'
B'Tselem and Hamoked have no doubt that "the handling and treatment of the detainees, as revealed in the report, are consistent with the philosophy of interrogation that seeks to break the detainees by causing shock and fear, detaching the detainees from things to which they are normally accustomed, and by severely depriving them of sensory stimuli, movement, and human contact.
"Other components of this philosophy are physical weakness by means of sleep deprivation, reduction in food intake, exposure to cold and heat, and pain, the primary source of the pain being forced prolonged sitting in rigid bodily positions.
"This philosophy is described in CIA interrogation manuals of the 1960s and 1980s, which were used to guide interrogators in tyrannical regimes in Latin America. The result of the use of these methods, as stated in the manuals, is psychological regression and a detainee who becomes putty in the hands of the interrogator."
The organizations claim that the treatment of the Palestinian detainees, as described in the report, receives the backing of the State. Since 2001, Palestinians interrogated by Israel Security Authorities agents have filed 645 complaints to the Ministry of Justice regarding the manner in which they were interrogated, but not one of the complaints led to a criminal investigation against the interrogator.
"The State of Israel attempts to justify the severe infringement of the detainee’s rights by claiming the actions are necessary to thwart serious acts of terrorism. This claim does not warrant violation of the absolute prohibition on torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment," the report states.
"Furthermore, Israel’s attempts to divert the public debate to what it refers to as the 'ticking-bomb dilemma' is artificial," the organizations say, explaining that "most of the Palestinians who gave testimonies for the purpose of the report were not suspected of serious offenses, in comparison to the scale of offenses allegedly committed by Palestinians who are brought before military courts in the occupied territories. Some of the witnesses were accused of acts that are political or religious in nature."
The report's authors demand that the State of Israel put an end to the use of the described means. "Toward this objective, action must be taken to achieve three results: Cessation of the breaches of the inmates’ rights, punishment of the offending officials, and payment of compensation to the victims. In addition, it is important to conduct a thorough, independent, and transparent investigation of the ostensible breaches and to publish the findings in full."
State: Arrests result of unique situation
The State's four-page response was handed to B'Tselem by the Justice Ministry. It concludes that "the report makes general assumptions, some very serious, without any foundation apart from general statements, which are presented without any details which could be examined, confirmed or refuted…
"The execution of arrests in the Judea and Samaria region is the result of the unique nature of the operational activity in the area and the need to minimize the danger faced by the forces and reduce the friction between them and the population. These considerations have implications on the claims regarding detainees' inability to dress or pack personal belongings."
The State rejects the claims on the Military Advocacy's failure to deal with complaints of violence against detainees, stating that out of 40 complaints submitted by the Public Committee against Torture IN Israel, 21 led to an investigation by the criminal investigation division of the Military Police.
"In 2008, 211 investigations were launched by the criminal investigation division of the Military Police in regards to violence offenses against Palestinians, and 140 investigations were launched in 2009."
As for the Shin Bet interrogations, the State claims that they are being supervised by a series of independent legal elements, including the attorney general, the state prosecutor, the Justice Ministry, and the court system.
"The detainees are free to turn to one of the mentioned bodies and present their claims as to the handling of their interrogation," the State said in its response. "We regret the fact that the draft report repeats unfounded claims that have already been rejected by the State of Israel's Supreme Court."
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