British police and intelligence officers sent to tackle UK-funded torturers on West Bank
By David Rose
25th October 2009
The Government is sending British police and intelligence officers to the West Bank to try to stop a wave of brutal torture by Palestinian security forces funded by UK taxpayers.
Their mission is to set up and train a new 'internal affairs' department with sweeping powers to investigate abuse and bring torturers to justice.
The department is being paid for by Britain, with an initial planning budget of £100,000 a sum set to soar as it becomes established.
Haitham Arar, head of the Palestinian Authority interior ministry's human rights department, said:
'This is a shame on the Palestinian Authority. We are determined with the help of our British colleagues to instill respect for human rights as part of the security forces' daily behaviour and to teach them how to treat prisoners properly.'She said planning for the new department was well advanced and it should be operational in four month's time.
Besides investigation, British detectives will train the Palestinian police and 'Preventive Security' forces in how to question suspects without torturing them.
The next step would be for officers from MI5 and MI6 to train the PA's Mukhabarat intelligence agency.
'Obviously police cannot train intelligence officers,' Ms Arar said. 'For that you need other intelligence officers. We need all the help we can get.'
Support for the new department follows the disclosure by The Mail on Sunday in January that Britain spends £20million a year funding the forces responsible for the abuse.
Most of their victims are accused of involvement with Hamas, the radical Islamist party that seized power through violence in the Gaza Strip in 2007. The Palestinian Authority in the West Bank is controlled by the rival Fatah party.
'A lot of people were talking in a bad way about the PA and saying they wanted the West Bank to be like Gaza,' Ms Arar said.
'There were people who had weapons and others who were money-laundering tosupport terrorism.'On the ground in the West Bank last week, however, it was clear that realising Ms Arar's aspirations is some way from fulfilment.
'We had to bring these people to order. But there were violations because not all the security officers were aware of human rights standards. We need oversight over the security forces' actions.'
In the region's largest city, Nablus, Nasser al-Shaer, a former Manchester academic who was deputy prime minister in the short-lived Hamas Palestinian Authority government elected in 2006, said many of those released from detention in recent months were telling the same story of torture, including beatings, being suspended from the ceiling and electric shocks.
Some of those who previously spoke to The Mail on Sunday had been arrested and tortured again, Dr al-Shaer added. 'I wish I could introduce you to them. But the fear has become too pervasive.'
One young man told in a whisper how he had been assaulted with a high-voltage device with electrodes 'like fingers'. Refusing to allow me to take notes, he said: 'I was inside for 12 months and released without charge, but if it gets out I have talked to a journalist, they will come for me again.'
However, Dr al-Shaer said that since the beginning of this month, he had heard no fresh reports of torture.
A spokeswoman at the British Consulate in Jerusalem, where aid to the PA is channelled, said UK police had already started the first courses for senior Palestinian officers, including aggressive questioning techniques that are nonetheless fully in accordance with international human rights standards.
To assist the internal affairs investigators, officers were being given a clear message that they must be prepared to blow the whistle on colleagues if they witnessed abuse.
Ms Arar said that in the past week, 32 officers accused of abuse had been brought before Palestinian courts, and 15 recommended for prosecution. Two had been charged with torture.
Prime Minister Salam Fayyad told me: 'The situation is going to change. This is not only morally right, but a political imperative.'