In Israel, there is "no effective barrier – not legal and certainly not ethical – that stands in the way of using torture..."
By Karima Saifullah
In Israel, there is "no effective barrier – not legal and certainly not ethical – that stands in the way of using torture,” concluded a recent report by the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI).
The report slammed the Israeli High Court’s approval of the use of tough tactics to interrogate Palestinians classified as “ticking bombs”, saying that the ruling was interpreted by Israel’s internal intelligence service, the Shin Bet, as a green light to torture almost every Palestinian detainee. Moreover, PCATI said that prison wardens, policemen and even doctors took part in torturing Palestinian detainees, as well as lawyers, military judges and senior officials in the Justice Ministry.
In the report, titled “A Time Bomb”, PCATI detailed accounts of nine Palestinian detainees who have been subjected to physical, sexual and psychological abuse at the hands of their Israeli interrogators over the past year. “The testimonies of the nine Palestinian victims exemplify the extent to which the torture mechanism is rooted in the treatment of Palestinian detainees, and the exceedingly bureaucratic way in which torture is carried out, in an organized, almost blasé manner,” it said.
In one case, Bahjat Yamen, a resident of Qalqiliya, said: "I simply felt terrified, and I had excruciating pains in my back and I felt that my back was about to really break, and I yelled and cried and begged, but the torture did not stop. When the interrogation was over, at approximately 4 in the morning, they took me down to the cell. And all the time there were noises in the cell – knocking at the door… and I would even hear my own screams during the interrogation, which they had apparently taped".
Another detainee, Amin Ahmad Jamil Shqirat, from a-Sawahra a-Sharqiyyeh, near Bethlehem, said: "The interrogators sat me on a chair, with the chair's back to the right of me. One interrogator sat facing me, and another behind me, and they forced me to wrap my legs around the legs of the chair. One of them stepped on my feet and pushed me back at a certain angle, which caused me a lot of pain around my stomach and abdominal muscles. When I tried to straighten myself, the one behind me would pull me back, until my strength was exhausted and I lay back on the floor behind me, because I could no longer restrain myself due to the cramps in my abdominal muscles,
"That's not all. When I started leaning my head back, one of the interrogators hit me in the stomach and in the abdominal muscles, and held my legs and shook them, which caused tears in my stomach,
“I insisted I was innocent, and they changed their style. They brought long metal handcuffs and bound my hands behind me with the cuffs on my arms. They would close the cuffs and press on them until the metal dug into the flesh and you felt your arm has been amputated. When I cried out in pain, they laughed and jeered".
Luwaii Ashqar from Saida near Tulkarem also said: "The interrogators would force me to stand on my tip-toes for an hour to an hour and a half, while my hands were shackled and stretched. My hands, when they were shackled, were swollen and blue…
"From 22 April until 26 April, they gave me water only, and no food, and they would not allow me to sleep. The interrogators rotated every four hours."
According to PCATI’s report, the term “ticking bomb” was first coined as literary concept by a French author in relation to the French occupation of Algeria "which was no less brutal than the Israeli occupation of Palestinian Territories."
"A state that views itself as a democracy committed to the protection of human rights cannot allow torture that is derived from the darkness of the Middle Ages,” PCATI director Hannah Friedman warned.
Commenting on the horrific stories of the nine Palestinians interviewed for the report, PCATI said: “We have no way of knowing what information was in the possession of the Israeli security apparatuses that led to the use of such sadistic torture, but it is doubtful that any of the victims fits the very terrible scenario of a ‘ticking bomb’.”
Moreover, the report argues that it is no longer possible to limit the practice of torture to exceptional cases. “A secret service organization such as the GSS (Shin Bet) decides independently to use torture and, afterwards, investigates itself as to whether the use of interrogation was justified...The Justice Ministry – from the Attorney General through the State Attorney's Office and the nameless GSS Ombudsman of Interogees' Complaints – gives systematic and blind backing to the interrogation methods of the GSS. The legal system tends to avoid torture victims' complaints.”
In an attempt to defend abusive techniques, the Shin Bet claimed that its interrogations are “conducted according to the law...It must be stressed that the information derived from these interrogations helped prevent and thwart acts of terror against Israeli citizens."
But PCATI’s report stressed that “Torture does not prevent terror. Torture compromises the morality of the torturer, and the body and soul of the tortured. Torture reflects and at the same time perpetuates a view of the other as one undeserving of humane treatment, and as such, also reduces the chances of escaping the cycle of fear, hatred, mutual killing and ethical deterioration."