ISRAELI TORTURE IS SYSTEMATIC
MER FLASHBACK - 3rd Week January 1997:
[MER - Torture of Palestinians is not only routine
and systematic, in it actually sanctioned by the Israeli legal system that has been
twisted to serve Israeli policies. Going back to the Shinbet scandal of the early 1980's,
even more sadistic forms of torture have given way to the kinds of 'legalized' torture
methods outlined in this important article from one of the few independent and
courageousmedia sources in Israel, The Alternative Information Center (AIC). Among the
reasons the Israelis get away with such systematic torture of Palestinians is that hardly
anyone is willing to protest. The so-called "Palestinian Authority" practices
similar and even worse torture techniques, as do nearly all of the Arab governments in the
region -- so they are hardly in a position to protest. And the"liberal" American
Jewish community has been morally bankrupt about such issues for so long now that to speak
up at this point would be to condemn themselves for permitting, and even encouraging in
many cases, such Nazi-like behavior by the Israelis for decades.]
ISRAELI JUSTICE ON TORTURE
A Shining Light Unto Nations?
"The entire Israeli establishment countenances torture..."
First, his head is covered with a thick rancid sack. Its difficult to breathe.
Handcuffed, he is bound in a twisted position to a kindergarten chair with hardly any back
support and held there for four days straight. Every time his head falls when sleep
overcomes him, he is slapped on his face to wake up. Maybe on the fifth day the handcuffs
are removed and he is allowed to sleep in a tiny windowlesscell. Music is blaring in the
cell around the clock. It is difficult to sleep with noise and the constant glare of the
shining fluorescent light. On the sixth or seventh day, his head is covered again with the
rancid sack, but this time, he is chained to a pole in the corridor and made to stand
there for four more days. Or perhaps, he is handcuffed to a hook a meter from the ground
and is forced to squat for three days; three days continuously that is. Or he is undressed
and made to sit in front of a blasting air-conditioner for hours. There is no sleep. His
hands are swollen from the tight handcuffs; he is vomiting from the prolonged contorted
position he is heldin. He smells, unshaven, he wants to sleep.
This is moderate physical pressure under Israeli law and it is legal. Under
international law this is torture and is completely prohibited at all times. This
moderate physical pressure is routinely used by the Israeli secret police
(GSS) to extract confessions from Palestinian detainees under interrogation.
The UNConvention Against Torture, of which Israel is a signatory, states that the use of
any physical or psychological pressure which causes pain or humiliation is absolutely
prohibited at all times.
What constitutes torture and degrading treatment is subjective -- determined by the
victims sensation of the physical and mental pain caused to him. Sitting in front of
cold air may not on its face compare to torture methods like electric shock, but after two
weeks of little sleep and sitting in contorted positions, undressed in themiddle of the
rainy winter, 12 hours of the air conditioner feels like hell. One detainee
described it as putting the air in a state of war with me.
Despite the prohibitions under international law, the entire Israeli establishment
countenances torture: The Israeli military courts routinely disregard claims of torture
and extend the interrogations until the Israeli secret police finish the interrogation;
the Ministry of Justice defends the torture in the Israeli High Court of Justice; the High
Court of Justice itself puts the stamp of approval on the torture often rejecting
petitions that request the court to order the GSS to cease the torture; the Israeli
Knesset Ministerial Committee (composed of members of the Labor and Zionist Left parties
including Yossi Sarid) consistently renews the license to the GSS Director granting him
total discretion to determine when torture beyondmoderate physical pressure
can be used.
The GSS Director has just given his okay for the torture to go beyond moderate
physical pressure. The detainee is grabbed by the shoulders or by his collar and
shaken violently for seconds or minutes. His head convulses, rattled back and forth,
incessantly, it feels as if it will fly off, he loses his stand, dizziness overtakes him,
his body is on fire. Sometimes he falls unconscious; sometimes he just falls to theground.
Or maybe he is beaten.
No one knows what methods constitute moderate physical pressure or
beyond moderate physical pressure since GSS activities and methods are secret
and unreviewable by the public. The information we know is derived solely from testimony
of former torture victims.
The Perversion of the Israeli Legal System
Two weeks ago, the Israeli High Court of Justice, lead by Justice Aaron Barak, ruled
that Muhammed Hamdan, a student from Bir Zeit University, could continue to be tortured.
The Court deferred to the secret polices ticking bomb argument -- that
torture was necessary to uncover information to an imminent bomb attack. This despite the
absolute prohibition against torture under international law and thefact that the
imminence was doubtful -- Hamdan had been in Israeli custody for over a month. The High
Court gave such deference to the secret police, that one of the justices, Michael Cheshin,
rebuked Hamdans lawyer as immoral for petitioning the court to stop the torture.
Later on that week, the High Court rejected another petition to order the secret police
to stop using torture. In this case, the court ruled that the secret police could continue
to deprive Khader Mubarek -- another victim -- of sleep and to cover his head continuously
with a rancid sack. The court refused to issue a temporary order to halt the use of
moderate physical pressure during the interrogation, but ordered the secret police to
refrain from placing Mubarek in painful sitting positions.
The High Courts decisions sanctioning torture demonstrate how perverted the
Israeli legal system has become. In the name of preserving Israels
democracy and existence, the High Court of Justice routinely sanctions
trespass on the liberal states most cherished assets -- ones body and
ones liberty. Justice Aaron Barak-- the President of Israels Supreme Court,
the same justice that is invited and honored by Harvard and Yale Law Schools and the
American Bar Association as a leading liberal legal-jurisprudence thinker -- is also the
Justice who permits the GSS to torture, physically and mentally degrade others.
Instead of remaining true to the two most alienable principles of most legal systems --
the presumption of innocence and the right to remain silent -- Israeli justices and judges
allow the GSS to treat every Palestinian under interrogation as a convicted terrorist and
to torture him until he talks. Judge Shlomo Issacson, President of theRamallah military
court1 and a religious Jew, ruled once that the Palestinian detainee in front of him
deserved the difficult interrogation because he had chosen to remain silent
and was not cooperating with the interrogators i.e. confessing. He extended
the detainees interrogation for another 14 days with full knowledge thathe was
returning the detainee to another round of torture.2 Torture corrupts both the victim and
the torturer. Just as the victim remains psychologically and, at times, physically scarred
by his traumatic experience, the torturer is mentally corrupted from dehumanizing his
suspect and benefiting from his pain and suffering. The GSS torture has already corrupted
the Israeli legal system. Cloaking themselves in the moral high ground of security and
protecting Israels democratic existence, these justices and judges pervert all
principles of human dignity and liberty and corrode the very foundation and raison
detre of a democratic legal system. By continuingto permit and defend torture
in all its forms, these justices and judges have becomea threat to the same liberal and
free principles that they were appointed to protect.
When the state itself beats and extorts, it cannot longer be said to rest on
foundations of morality and justice, but rather on force . . . Just as this situation is
one of coercion and submission, so the state itself, which permits it, becomes a state of
coercion and submission. When a state employs forceful means which no ends can justify,
such as torture, it reduces the moral distance between a governmental act and a criminal
act. . ..3
1 Despite the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and the West Bank cities, the Israelis
continue to operate military courts all over the Occupied Territories. The Gaza military
court still functions today as well.
2 In many cases where the GSS cannot obtain a confession because the detainee kept
silent, or where the GSS lacks sufficient evidence to bring charges, the detainee is not
released but rather sent to administrative detention. The detention is then approved by
another military judge and is extended periodically by the military commander upon the
approval of the civil administrations legal advisor.
3 Kremnitzer, Mordechai, The Landau Commission Report -- Was the Security Service
Subordinated to the Law, or the Law to the Needs of the Security Service?.,
Israel Law Review, Vol. 23, No. 2-3 1989, at 248.
Allegra Pacheco (Pacheco is an Israeli lawyer at the Palestinian Society for the
Protection of Human Rights (LAWE) and is a member of the Hebron Solidarity Committee.
From: NEWS FROM WITHIN December 1996Published by the Alternative Information Center --