Story Highlights

  • Israel must be transparent about every interrogation it conducts
Israel Police
The Israel Police. Arresting pot smokers is a superfluous demonstration of power against civilians. Photo by Motti Kimche
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Last week the Ministerial Committee for Legislation decided to support a bill, proposed by the Public Security Ministry, that would make permanent a temporary order exempting the Israel Police from having to record interrogations of persons suspected of committing security offenses.

The temporary provision took effect in 2002, and was to be in force for five years; it was extended in 2007 for another four years. Last week the ministerial committee approved a decision to make the exemption permanent.

This is a bad and indeed dangerous proposal. Indeed it's not for nothing that that three democratically minded ministers - Dan Meridor, Michael Eitan and Benny Begin - opposed it.

Every interrogation, including those concerning security matters, must be carried out with maximum transparency. A situation should not be countenanced in which the state conducts interrogations far from the public eye, without any documentation and from now on also without any oversight. If the police are concerned about the conduct of their interrogators during questioning of security detainees, this is a truly grave matter. For if all interrogations are conducted in accordance with the law, as police officials contend, what is there to hide?

The argument that documenting what transpires during interrogations could lead to public exposure of the interrogators and of the police's methods is ridiculous. The interrogations can be documented while at the same time there can be assurances that the information is not leaked to the public.

The list of infractions considered "security offenses" in Israel is too broad and too elastic. But even if the list is pared down, interrogations should not be carried out without proper documentation. It has already been proven in the past that such documentation can either support or dispel suspects' allegations of improper conduct by their interrogators. Such an option should not be precluded.

If the proposed bill is passed into law, interrogators are liable to abuse their suspects, torture them, and do them physical and emotional harm. And all would be done in the knowledge that no one could ever prove what actually happened. The absence of documentation could even encourage such abuse.

It is only in darker regimes that such interrogations are carried out in secret, far from public scrutiny and without proper documentation. Israel must not join such a community of nations. The cabinet must be receptive to the appeal of the three ministers and shelve this outrageous bill, which has no place in any democratic regime.