The Ministerial Committee on Legislation on Sunday approved a proposal by Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan that the police be given a permanent exemption from the requirement to record interrogations of people suspected of security offenses.
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According to a document distributed to the ministers by the Public Security Ministry ahead of Sunday’s vote, “such documentation could cause real damage to the quality of the interrogation and the ability to investigate security offenses and thus cause real damage to the capacity to thwart terror threats, solve crimes and discover their perpetrators.”
The current law requires audio and video recordings of the interrogations of suspects facing imprisonment of 10 years or more. However, that requirement was temporarily suspended by the Knesset by emergency order in 2002. Since then, the Knesset has reapproved the temporary exemption every three years.
The Public Defender’s Office and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel lodged a series of objections to Erdan’s proposed amendment in recent weeks. Those objections were conveyed to the Public Security Ministry and brought to the attention of the other ministers in a brief.
Opponents of the amendment say that lack of documentation infringes on the right of the suspect to dignity, fair process and equality and could lead to miscarriages of justice and wrongful convictions. The opponents said a more proportionate means should be found to maintain the efficiency of interrogations.
But according to the Public Security Ministry, recording the questioning of security suspects seriously impairs the ability of the Shin Bet security service and the police to stop terror attacks.
“Many times, the people under interrogation have been prepped by the terror organization, telling them how to deal with the investigation and its stratagems,” the Public Security Ministry document said. “Visual and audio documentation of security suspects under questioning can help those organizations to learn about what goes on during interrogation and thus bolster their preparedness and sabotage future interrogation work.”
Documentation of interrogation elsewhere in the world was also discussed. In Britain, the questioning of terror suspects must be recorded and can be presented in court. Australia has dealt with suspects’ fear of going on record as having cooperated with the authorities by deciding that the recordings of the questioning sessions cannot be used in court.
In the United States, by contrast, there is no federal law requiring documentation of police interrogations and various states have their own laws on the matter. In FBI interrogations, suspects are not recorded when they are speaking about matters of public security or classified intelligence and in cases where the agent in charge has decided that recording the session is unnecessary.