The abuse of prisoners detained at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq proves that it matters not if the occupier declares its aim to enforce democracy or uphold human rights, or if it calls itself an "enlightened occupation" - the degradation of prisoners is an almost unavoidable consequence of an occupation regime. In the end, the occupation will corrupt the occupiers.

Israel's name has found its way into the wave of self-criticism now rolling over the U.S. Some critics are even alleging the Americans learned their interrogation techniques from Israel. However, there is a unique aspect to the American experience. The American corruption, as expressed in the sadistic degradation of prisoners, occurred only shortly after the occupation began. None of the reported instances of abuse occurred during interrogation, nor were they committed by interrogators. The acts of degradation bore a decidedly pathological character, and included the active participation of women. Another curious aspect is the tendency of the Americans to document their acts on film.

At one stage, the higher echelons at the Pentagon knew something serious was going on at the Iraqi prison, but this was not reported to Congress and not addressed forcefully. In one case, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld appeared before a congressional committee, but did not bother to say that an investigation into the matter was underway. The story broke a few days later. American public figures are repeatedly saying the incidents are uncharacteristic of American behavior, but the fact remains that Americans committed the acts. It is disturbing to hear Arabs from undemocratic states saying that by their actions, the Americans have brought dishonor on the concept of democracy.

Israel has had experience with maltreatment of prisoners, too. Every so often, complaints are voiced about military policemen or others in the defense establishment who, in the course of escorting prisoners, beat them - not during the interrogation, but after the arrest. The occupation and the domination of Palestinians' lives have been going on since 1967.

Maltreatment of prisoners during their interrogation did not occur right away, and it took time until it became clear that a negative phenomenon was developing. The abuse generally consisted of sleep deprivation or placing a sack over the interrogation subject's head. Criticism of these acts was periodically leveled by the state prosecution, judges or politicians, for example, by former Justice Meir Shamgar or then-defense minister Moshe Dayan.

Justified allegations of sexual abuse have not been found, aside from a handful of cases in which prisoners sustained blows to the groin. It was clear that interrogators who overstepped their legal authorities were doing everything they could to avoid leaving marks on the interrogation subject's body. Israeli interrogators developed techniques such as shaking the prisoner during his questioning. All told, over 26,000 instances of shaking prisoners during interrogation were recorded.

There were also a few incidents of death during interrogation. All of them were revealed to the public and were seen as accidents that occurred during interrogation, and of course as a violation of the law and orders. In some cases, those involved were suspended; during the first intifada, two interrogators were sent to jail. The Landau Commission, established in 1987, set rules for interrogation, and in the aftermath of its recommendations, a public debate ensued on whether it was acceptable to use "moderate physical pressure" during an interrogation intended to prevent a terrorist attack.

The High Court of Justice eventually determined, in 1999, the rules of what is permitted and what is forbidden during interrogation. Experts in the field say there is an immense professional disparity in Israel's favor - in terms of the sophistication of interrogation techniques - between it and the United States.

Supreme Court President Aharon Barak has said Israel is a democracy on the defensive, which has to deal with cruel terror. It's true, Israel is fighting a defensive war, but there is no doubt that over the years, the occupation has also corrupted Israeli society.