Bring secret interrogations into the light
The legal exemption that allows interrogations of security defenders to go unrecorded is bad for suspects and for state security.
The Knesset on July 3 ratified the following one-line amendment: "In the Criminal Procedure Law, 2002, section 17, instead of 'nine years' it will say 'twelve years.'"
The amendment extends by three years an exemption that lets police and Shin Bet security services' opt out of recording interrogations of suspected security offenders. Written documentation is still required. But this means that people suspected of security-related offenses – as opposed to other serious crimes – will continue to be interrogated without audio or visual documentation.
Audio and visual documentation of interrogations is primarily required to protect the rights of suspects and ensure investigations are carried out properly. Such recordings reduce the probability that illegal interrogation methods will be used and help allay concerns that false confessions will be extracted. They are especially important in circumstances where Israeli law allows authorities to postpone bringing suspects before a judge or letting them consult with a lawyer.
In these cases, the exemption from documentation further isolates suspects and creates conditions that encourage the use of inappropriate interrogation methods, like the use or threat of force – which may result in false confessions.
Defenders of the law say it is justified by the need to keep certain interrogation methods, as well as the identities of interrogators and their collaborators, secret. But these arguments are entirely unconvincing.
First, the exposure of hundred of suspects over many years to security services' interrogation methods has diminished their secrecy. It is hard to believe that the use of audio-visual documentation will expose them.
Second, laws could be passed to ensure that recordings are not publicized, and are only accessible by suspects and their lawyers. Extending the blanket legal exemption from making audio-visual records is an overly broad and disproportionate solution.
Third, eliminating audio-visual records is not only contrary to the public interest in protecting the rights of detainees, but also risks increasing the number of claims of unacceptable use of force – which detainees have said led them to give false confessions. The need to quickly and effectively investigate security suspects has led security agencies to utilize unacceptable investigative methods and extract false confessions from suspects in the past.
It is regrettable that the Knesset has once again extended the exemption. It is likely to increase the risk of unjustifiably damaging suspects' rights, and it is in the public interest that these investigations be supervised.
Rosenzweig is a research assistant at the Israel Democracy Institute. Shany is a senior research fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute and a lecturer in the law faculty at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.