The latest offense to Israeli law was committed on Monday: The Knesset gave final approval to a law extending a “temporary order” that allows the security services to delay bringing a suspected terrorist before a judge for up to 96 hours after he is arrested. This is in contrast to all other suspects, who must be brought before a judge within 24 hours. This temporary order also allows courts to extend the remands of suspected terrorists without the suspect being brought to court at all. And this order wasn’t enacted for the occupied territories: There, the security services have even broader powers.
Ensuring that detainees are brought before a judge quickly is a cornerstone of democracy. It is meant to prevent arbitrary arrests and impose judicial supervision over the executive branch. The temporary order approved on Monday was first enacted in 2006, long after the wave of terror of the second intifada had subsided, and after the security services had proven that they were capable of fighting this terror without a draconian law of this ilk.
The head of the Shin Bet security service’s investigations department claims that his organization rarely uses these extraordinary powers of detention. But this claim in no way mitigates the severity of this temporary order.
First, the history of the past three years shows that every year, the Shin Bet has made increased use of these powers. But even if this weren’t the case, it would be unacceptable to give the organization such authority. What happened with assassinations − which at first were considered legitimate only against “ticking bombs,” but later became an almost routine tactic − will also happen with this temporary order, which allows arrests without a judge. We can’t trust the Shin Bet to know when to refrain from using it.
The fact that the Knesset also permitted the agency to refrain from bringing a suspect to court, and instead to hold remand hearings in his absence, without the judge being able to form an impression of the condition his interrogation had left him in, or to hear any arguments he might wish to raise, makes the impact of this law that much worse. Even the qualifier that the order relates only to people defined as constituting an “almost certain danger” of committing a terrorist attack that endangers human life does nothing to improve the situation. The Shin Bet can attach this label to anyone suspected of security offenses.
Bringing a suspect to court doesn’t increase the danger he constitutes. But not bringing him greatly increases another danger, which is no less grave: It widens the cracks in Israel’s democracy.
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