Sunday, 16 December 2018

In Israel – torture is a standard interrogation technique for use on Palestinians


When Emily Thornberry claims that Israel is a democratic state then she is deliberately turning a blind eye to its routine use of torture






Not only does Israel routinely use torture against Palestinian prisoners but it even uses it against children, Palestinian children of course. 60% of Palestinian children who are detained are tortured by Israeli forces.
Yet in what Asa Winstanley called ‘a groveling address in front of the Israeli ambassador at the Labour Friends of Israel annual dinner’ in November 2017, Emily Thornberry declared that
‘even today... modern Israel stands out as a beacon of freedom, equality and democracy, particularly in respect of women and LGBT communities.’
Thornberry is seen by many in the Labour Party as a ‘left’ replacement for Jeremy Corbyn if the Right can remove him.  She has, for example been endorsed by Unite’s fake-left General Secretary  Len McLuskey.
So a simple question.  Is a state which routinely uses torture against children and a section of its own inhabitants, Palestinians, who are residents in a Greater Israel – albeit without any rights –fit to be called a ‘democratic’ state?
Is the use of torture as state policy compatible with Thornberry’s description of Israel as a ‘beacon of freedom, equality and democracy.’?  If she thinks it is compatible then this alone should disqualify her from being an MP let alone a future Labour Foreign Secretary.
Israel is the only state in the world where torture is legal. There is a long history of Israel’s Supreme Court endorsing torture. It originally ruled that ‘moderate physical pressure’ could be used.  It then modified this by ruling that only in a ‘ticking time bomb’ case could ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ i.e. torture be used. This is the idea that if a bomb is about to explode then it is permissible to torture someone into revealing its whereabouts.  However there is no example of this ever happening.  It is a pretext for the routine use of torture against suspects. 
A year ago the High Court ruled in favour of the use of torture. This ruling was upheld by Israel’s High Court two weeks ago.
As Israel’s Landau Commission stated in 1987, when endorsing ‘moderate physical pressure’
 ‘The methods of interrogation which are employed in any given regime are a faithful mirror of the character of the entire regime.’
The Landau Commission’s 1987 recommendations were overturned by the High Court in 1999 but the ‘ticking timebomb’ exception replaced it. Two weeks ago the High Court approved (see below) the use of torture against a Palestinian prisoner who knew where a weapons cache was being kept. This was not the ‘ticking timebomb’ exception but an exercise in discovering where rifles used to attack the occupying army were kept.  This is exactly what the Americans did in Iraq and Abu Ghraib and of course what the Nazis did in Occupied Europe.
Perhaps Emily Thornberry can explain whether she agrees with the Landau Commission’s observations that ‘'The methods of interrogation which are employed in any given regime are a faithful mirror of the character of the entire regime." If so how is this compatible with calling Israel a ‘beacon of freedom, equality and democracy’.
As Julian Borger noted in the Guardian (11.2.2000) Israeli government report admits systematic torture of Palestinians
The Israeli internal security service, Shin Bet, used systematic torture against Palestinians and regularly lied about it, according to an Israeli government report which has been released five years after it was written.
Robin Cook at least tried, during his tenure as Foreign Secretary to promote what he called an ‘ethical foreign policy.’ That was why Blair removed him.  Thornberry makes so such claims. What is astounding is that so many Labour Party members see Thornberry, a paid-up member of Labour Friends of Israel, as being of the Left.
Tony Greenstein

Israeli High Court Ruling May Make It Easier for Interrogators to Use Violence

A Palestinian West Bank resident says his Shin Bet interrogators tortured him, but the judges say the methods were acceptable. The ruling could have far-reaching implications for the way interrogations are conducted
Yotam Berger Nov 30, 2018 Ha’aretz


Fares Tbeish, who says the Shin Bet security service tortured him. Olivier Fitoussi

In a ruling that could make it easier for investigators to use harsh interrogation tactics against Palestinians, the High Court of Justice said this week the severe tactics used against one Palestinian were legitimate because he was suspected of knowing the location of a weapons cache.
The court therefore rejected Fares Tbeish’s petition against the closure of an investigation into Shin Bet security service interrogators whom he accused of torturing him.
Tbeish, a 40-year-old resident of the West Bank, was arrested in 2011 on suspicion of membership in Hamas and arms dealing. He was kept in administrative detention, or arrest without trial, for a year. Investigators believed he knew the location of an arms cache containing at least 10 weapons, including rifles.
After harsh tactics were used in his interrogation, he disclosed the cache’s location. This information also led to the arrest of other Hamas operatives, including one who confessed to having planned to kidnap an Israeli.
Tbeish and the state ultimately reached a plea bargain in which he admitted to being a member of Hamas’ military wing, hiding weapons for the organization and transferring seven weapons to other Hamas members. He was sentenced to three years in prison.
After his conviction, Tbeish filed a complaint with the Shin Bet ombudsman, aided by the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel. He said his interrogators had threatened to harm him, his family and his home. They also deprived him of sleep, hit him, kept him in the “banana position” – with his back bent over a chair and his hands and feet cuffed together – shook him so hard he lost consciousness, and kept him on a chair with his hands cuffed painfully behind the chair back.
Simulated torture of a Jewish youth by right-wing  demonstrators - when the Shin Bet uniquely used methods of torture against Zionist terrorists - its use against Palestinians has never disturbed these settlers
The ombudsman, Col. (res.) Jana Mudzgurishvilly, investigated the complaint, but in 2016 she closed the case. Tbeish then petitioned the High Court with the help of the Public Committee Against Torture.
But justices Yosef Elron, Isaac Amit and David Mintz rejected the petition, in a ruling that could have far-reaching implications for the way Shin Bet interrogations are conducted.
Elron, writing for the court, said that even though harsh tactics were used against Tbeish, he had failed to prove that they constituted torture. The petition presented medical evidence that Tbeish suffered from toothache, swelling, constricted movement in his knee, vision problems and leg pains. But Elron said these were not enough to prove that he had been tortured.
'Special methods'
The Shin Bet acknowledged using “special methods” to interrogate him, but it detailed these tactics in an ex parte hearing, without Tbeish or his lawyer present.
“These methods didn’t include using violence against the petitioner in the manner he described in the complaint and the petition,” Elron said. “Under the circumstances, and after examining the classified material submitted to us, I was convinced that the use of these special methods in the petitioner’s interrogation is covered by the necessity exception.”
That was a reference to the High Court’s famous 1999 ruling barring the Shin Bet from using torture, which included one exception – an investigator who used violent tactics would not be criminally liable if these tactics were necessary to save a life.
The metaphor the court used in that ruling was a ticking bomb. If the Shin Bet captured a suspect who knew where a bomb was but refused to tell, investigators would not be guilty of a crime if they used violence to get him to reveal its location before it exploded.
Fares Tbeish, who says the Shin Bet security service tortured him. Olivier Fitoussi
The 1999 ruling stressed that harsh tactics were permissible only if it was important to obtain answers quickly. But Elron said necessity should be interpreted “in light of Israel’s complex security situation.”
“The petitioner is active in a terrorist organization that had committed and continued to commit serious terror attacks,” he wrote. “In this context, the petitioner was party to a plot to amass many dangerous weapons with the intent to use them to perpetrate terrorist activity. The planned attack, had it been carried out, could have claimed lives.”
Elron added: “This fear of a tangible risk of serious harm to human lives ... created, in his interrogators’ view, a need to use special interrogation tactics to thwart the danger immediately.”
In Amit's concurring opinion, he acknowledged that this case “isn’t the classic case of a ticking bomb that could explode within minutes,” but he agreed with Elron that the need to find the cache before it was used justified the harsh tactics.
'Letting the Knesset avoid responsibility'
Prof. Barak Medina, rector of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and one of the country’s leading experts on constitutional law and human rights, told Haaretz that the ruling was liable to expand the security services’ ability to use violence when interrogating suspected terrorists.
“It wasn’t a formal permit, but in practice, yes. In any case where special methods are used, it’s necessary to ensure that they don’t amount to torture,” Medina said.
“But there’s no open discussion about the severity of these methods. The use of special methods is permitted only when there’s prior knowledge – for instance, because the interrogee confessed – that he has relevant information that he’s concealing.”
But Medina said the new ruling could be interpreted as allowing these methods against anyone connected to a terrorist organization who is suspected of possessing arms.
“There’s a significant expansion here of the circumstances in which it’s permissible to use special methods, because there’s no demand for high probability that these methods will indeed be necessary to obtain this information,” he said.
Harsh tactics “aren’t a punishment but a means to obtain information, so the issue of the interrogee’s direct involvement in the expected attack isn’t necessary per se as a justification for using these methods,” Medina added. “This shows the very problematic nature of this whole doctrine because it means the severity of the act attributed to the interrogee isn’t important in justifying [tactics that] cause him great harm.”
Moreover, Medina said, the court is essentially letting the Knesset avoid responsibility for regulating this issue in legislation. The 1999 ruling said the use of harsh tactics in interrogations was an issue on which the Knesset should decide – “not the attorney general, not the Shin Bet director and not the interrogators. But this ruling allows the Knesset to continue remaining silent and the Shin Bet to use investigative powers that it doesn’t have officially.”
The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel is also deeply concerned about a remark by Mintz in his concurring opinion in which he referred to “the rule stating that torture is forbidden except in extremely exceptional cases.” This phrase might suggest that even harsher tactics than those used today could be legitimate in “extremely exceptional cases,” the committee warned.
The court’s decision, said attorney Efrat Bergman-Sapir of the committee, “is liable to be interpreted as a significant retreat from the moral, ethical and legal stance laid down in the foundational ruling on torture from 1999, which held that the ban on torture is absolute, with no exceptions.”
No less worrying, she added, was the court’s expansion of the term “ticking bomb” to include cases in which interrogators know “that there is no ticking bomb in the sense of certainty and immediacy.”
Tbeish himself was upset that the court rejected his account of the harshness of the tactics against him.
“I thought there was justice in your court,” he said. “But in the end, what can I say? I raise my hands to heaven. Justice, it seems to me, doesn’t exist in this life, only in heaven.”
Referring to the military judge to whom he showed the marks on his legs and other parts of his body after his interrogation, he added, “Why didn’t the judge say back then that I was lying? They hurt me.”
Finally, he denied the accusation – to which he confessed in the plea deal – that he stored weapons for Hamas. He admitted that he has ties to the organization but said the weapons were meant for his personal defense in violent conflicts in his village.

+972 Magazine
Published December 2, 2018

Nearly 20 years after it banned torture, Israel’s High Court is finding new ways to justify using physical force in the interrogation of security suspects.

Israeli activists participate in an action protesting the use of torture, 2011. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)


Israel’s High Court of Justice last week ruled that Israeli authorities’ torture of a Hamas suspect was not illegal and that the Shin Bet interrogators do not need to be prosecuted. The ruling also broadened and effectively removed the strict limitations imposed by a landmark decision by the same court nearly two decades ago, which carved out a “ticking bomb” exception to the prohibition on torture.

 “The ruling shows that in the eyes of the High Court, physical abuse is a legitimate and perhaps even the preferable way of carrying out an interrogation in cases of national security,” said Itamar Mann, a law lecturer at Haifa University.
Shin Bet agents have for decades used torture, including moderate and severe physical and psychological abuse, to extract information from Palestinian suspects. The methods have ranged from violent shaking, beatings, sleep deprivation, long exposure to loud music, exposure to the elements, restraining suspects in painful positions for long periods, and covering suspects’ heads in foul-smelling sacks.
Israel ratified the UN Convention Against Torture in 1986, but never took the next step of actually outlawing the practice in Israeli law.
In September 1999, however, the High Court unanimously banned the use of physically abusive interrogation tactics. The ruling was widely viewed as a bold prohibition on torture and has been lauded and taught around the world. But in their historic decision, the justices also created a significant loop-hole to the prohibition: in the case of a “ticking bomb,” interrogators could avoid prosecution by invoking a necessity defense.
Twenty years later, it is clear just how much the Shin Bet has stretched that loophole. “The ruling could be seen an attempt to hide what the Shin Bet is actually doing,” added Mann.
Since 2001, when the Justice Ministry appointed a special investigator of torture allegations against the Shin Bet, PCATI and other organizations submitted over 1,100 complaints of torture. Of those, only one resulted in a criminal investigation, and it was not directly related to an interrogation.
The ruling also expanded the situations and circumstances in which the Shin Bet can use torture.
“The decision allows for the forced interrogation of any person who is tied to an armed wing of a terrorist organization, who has information about an attack that could take place at any given time, and is not willing to give up that information,” Mann said. “This is different from a ticking bomb scenario, thus casting a wide net that covers nearly every person who Israel deems an enemy combatant.”
The plaintiff in last week’s case, Fares Tbeish, a Hamas member, had hoped the court would order the Justice Ministry to reverse its decision not to open a criminal investigation into his interrogators, who he says tortured him.
Tbeish, who is being represented by PCATI and was first arrested and put in administrative detention in 2011, says the tactics Shin Bet interrogators used against him included beatings, violent shaking, humiliation, tying him to a chair in painful positions, and repeatedly moving him from one interrogation facility to another. He was later tried in court and sentenced to three years in prison.
Tbeish allegedly admitted that he had received weapons from a high-ranking Hamas member, which he then transferred over to a secret cache, but it was never established whether Tbeish knew if those weapons would be used in an imminent attack.
As a result of the interrogations, Tbeish said he had suffered bruising to his leg and eye, as well as a broken tooth. Efrat Bergman-Sapir, who heads the legal department at the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel and argued the case, says that the use of torture was enough to merit opening a criminal investigation against the defendant’s interrogators, and that the lack of a ticking bomb scenario meant they should not be able to invoke a necessity defense.
In addition to asking the court to prosecute the offending Shin Bet interrogator, Tbeish and PCATI also wanted the court to close the loophole that allows for the use of torture in the first place. The very existence of internal Shin Bet guidelines — regarding the proper ways to extract information from suspects as well as how and when to invoke a necessity defense — actually lay the groundwork for using torture.
The convention on torture defines the practice as “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person.” In their ruling last week, the justices concluded that the tactics employed against Tbeish did not meet that definition, but were “proportionate and reasonable in relation to the danger that arose from the intelligence.”
“The court’s decision may be interpreted as a significant withdrawal from the moral and legal position established in the landmark decision on torture in 1999,” Bergman-Sapir said in a written statement. “Equally troubling is the impossible threshold set by the court against the complainant to prove that he was tortured in the interrogation room and experienced severe pain and suffering.”
The High Court had the opportunity to restate that torture, or any violation of international law, is unlawful, said attorney Bana Shoughry, who headed PCATI’s legal department between 2008 and 2015 and was involved in Tbeish’s case early on. Instead, it expanded the possible exemptions for Shin Bet interrogators who break the law, not just from prosecution, but even from an investigation. “The decision puts an end to the idea that Shin Bet interrogators will be held accountable for their actions.”
The Shin Bet has primarily used torture against Palestinians suspected of involvement in armed resistance or terrorism. “These kinds of rulings make it easier for the Shin Bet to use these practices against additional groups,” Mann concluded. “They have already been used against radical settlers, and will likely continue to permeate other parts of the legal system, beyond what we can imagine.”

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