Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein announced on Wednesday that the officer in charge of the examination of complaints lodged against the Shin Bet security services would be transferred to the Ministry of Justice. There he will be subordinate, organizationally and administratively, to Ministry of Justice Director-General Guy Rottkopf.
Until now, claims of torture and abuse by security investigators have been examined within the Shin Bet by an individual who is a Shin Bet employee. In order to ensure objectivity, this examiner has always been professionally subordinate solely to a senior prosecutor in the attorney general's office, and his office was subordinate to the attorney general and the government legal advisor. Only the attorney general and senior prosecutors - and not Shin Bet employees - were allowed to advise and instruct the Shin Bet examiner on professional matters. The examiner's superiors received the findings and on this basis they decided whether or not to open a police investigation.
Nonetheless, many arguments have been voiced over the years that an internal Shin Bet officer should not be the one examining complaints against colleagues. It is against this background and after several deliberations on the subject over the last two years that Weinstein decided, with the agreement of Shin Bet head Yuval Diskin, that for "the sake of appearances" and in order to prevent the wagging of "loose tongues," and to increase public trust in the organization, the Shin Bet complaint examiner's office would become part of the Justice Ministry, and be severed from the Shin Bet.
More than 650 complaints of abuse and torture of examinees by Shin Bet investigators have been turned over to the government's legal advisers since 2001. According to the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, in every one of these cases the Shin Bet's internal examiner decided not to open a criminal investigation.
Until now, the Public Committee has been the major body examining the Shin Bet's self-review. A report issued by the committee last year included examples of superficial and inadequate treatment of examinees' complaints against the Shin Bet. The report says that responses to these claims of injury inflicted by investigators are very brief, and consist of repetition of the details in them with the addition of the statement: "There is no basis for the complaints in your letter."
Other characteristic responses to claims made by the committee are: "After investigators were questioned and each detainee's complaint separately examined, the attorney general came to the conclusion that the behavior of the investigators was unblemished, and so there was no need to take any legal steps against them" or, "The investigation was conducted according to regulations."
In the wake of Weinstein's decision, the head of the Public Committee, Ishai Menuhin, said he sees the announcement as the beginning of a change in the way complaints are investigated. But he called on the attorney general to complete the process by taking the necessary step of establishing an independent mechanism to examine claims of torture.
"Administrative transfer of the Shin Bet officer from the Shin Bet to the Justice Ministry does not answer the demand for the complete objectivity and independence of the body investigating complaints," Menuchin said. "The individual investigating complaints cannot be someone with a past or present role in the Shin Bet, but rather someone completely on the outside, without any ties to it, who can conduct independent investigations of those who obstruct justice ministry investigations."
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