The Shin Bet's Dream Investigation

Somehow an Israel Defense Forces prosecutor sees the Shin Bet's practice of depriving prisoners of sleep as humane.

Do military judges rely on decisions by their colleagues that conflict with the positions of the military prosecutor? More specifically, will one judge, Maj. Meir Vigisser use as precedent the decision of another judge, Col. Ronen Atzmon, who on Dec. 27, 2012 found a man innocent of assisting homicide because the incriminating witness fell asleep during a Shin Bet interrogation? In other words, the judge understood that the Shin Bet investigators engaged in the very common torture method of sleep deprivation, disrupting rather than furthering the pursuit of truth. 

In the ongoing case, presided over by Vigisser, the accusations against Ayman Nasser are thin: membership in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and participation in two demonstrations. Nasser denies both belonging to the organization and participating in a demonstration commemorating Popular Front leader Abu Ali Mustafa, who was assassinated by Israel.

Nasser, a researcher for Palestinian nongovernmental organization Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, admits he took part in an all-Palestinian demonstration in support of hunger-striking prisoners. He was arrested in October. The Shin Bet interrogated him for 39 days, depriving him of sleep, handcuffing his arms behind his back, tying his legs and arms to a chair for 20 hours and causing him physical pain.

The eager investigators weren’t satisfied with depriving Nasser alone of sleep. They did the same thing to two other detainees, who were called as witnesses for the prosecution in Nasser’s trial. The first was Muhammad Zaytun and the second was Ashraf Abu Aram. Both of them testified to falsely incriminating Nasser in exchange for sleep. 

Aram told the court on Monday, Feb. 4, as recorded in the transcripts: “They kept bringing me his [Nasser’s] picture and asked me to invent a connection, and it didn’t matter what, any story, as long as it led to a situation that there was a connection between us. They told me in the investigation while they were showing me the photographs that you know this person and you will incriminate him ” 

Viggiser accepted military prosecutor Capt. Raheli Aviv's request to declare Aran a hostile witness after he said that what he wrote in his testimony to the police at the beginning of November was incorrect. “Nearly 20 investigators who yelled at me entered my room,” he said in the mobile military court. “I can supply their names: Gabriel, Elisha, Dotan, Nora, Diego, Eyal. If you give me five minutes, I can recall all the names When I went down to the investigation room, I was in front of a policeman for 10 minutes and 23 hours and 50 minutes with the Shin Bet,” testified Aram. “The Shin Bet put mental pressure on me the entire time The Shin Bet told me that I am going to provide testimony not of my own will. They told me it’s a factory. The last thing in this factory is that I am going to provide the testimony they want.”

When Aviv asked who applied mental pressure, Aram replied: the investigative team of the Russian Compound in Jerusalem.

Aviv: “You ate?”

Aram: "Sort of. Not during the hours when I am supposed to eat.” 

Aviv: “Did you shower?”

Aram: “Not every day.”

Aviv: “But you did shower.”

Aram: “Since I was born until today I have showered.”

Aviv: “In the investigation, did you shower?”

Aram: “Not every day when I was in the investigation.”

Aviv: “They also gave you cigarette breaks from time to time during the investigation, correct?”

Aram: “Sometimes I was under investigation for over 16 hours, without sleep and without food. It could be that they gave me a cigarette break.”

Aviv: "What do you mean 'could be'? Did they or did they not give you one?”

Aram: “A yes or no question cannot describe the situation I was in. They let me smoke, but only a few times, perhaps two cigarettes per day on average. I usually smoke 50 cigarettes per day.”

Aviv: “They also gave you coffee in the investigation, correct? And sometimes additional things like cakes and sweets?”

Aram: “Not cakes.”

Aviv: “But coffee, yes.”

Aram: “After sitting under investigation for 18 hours, I put my head down on the table, and the investigators would knock on the table to wake me up. After that, they would give me coffee to continue the investigation. Afterward, they let me sleep for two hours. After 36 hours of investigation, they gave me a short break. For example, I was under investigation 18 hours and then they took me out for two hours and returned me to the investigation, and the coffee they served me was not a favor by the investigators but rather practical way of reviving me to continue the investigation.”

Aviv: “It attests to humane treatment by your investigators.”

Aram: “It attests to inhumane treatment I only slept 20 hours during the first 14 days of the investigation. It was in these 20 hours that I showered, ate and went to the bathroom. The days when I showered during the investigation were very few. I don’t remember. When I felt like sleeping I couldn’t sleep, rather only when the investigator wanted me to go to sleep Everything they gave me was connected to passing information, even if I didn’t have this information.”

Eyal Warshawski