As many as 90 percent of Palestinian prisoners being interrogated by the Shin Bet security service are prevented from consulting with an attorney, even though civilian and military legislation state clearly that such prohibition should be rarely applied, according to a report published by the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel and the Palestinian Prisoners' Society.
The Shin Bet says it has legal clearance to keep certain detainees from lawyers.
According to Dr. Maya Rosenfeld, the author of the study, during prolonged periods when prisoners are kept from meeting with lawyers, the Shin Bet utilizes interrogation methods that run contrary to international law, Israeli laws and Israeli commitments to avoid such methods.
Among these interrogation methods are tying prisoners for a long time to a chair with their hands behind the back, sleep deprivation, threats (usually of harming family members ), humiliation and being kept for long periods in unsanitary cells.
The Shin Bet has refused in the past to provide data on the numbers of prisoners who are prevented from meeting with a lawyer.
A petition filed by the human rights group Yesh Din and the Movement for Freedom of Information in March 2009 is still pending.
In the absence of official data, The Public Campaign and the Prisoners Society carried out research and cross-referenced their information with different sources in order to estimate the numbers of prisoners who are prevented from meeting with lawyers.
According to estimates of the authors, out of 11,970 Palestinians the Shin Bet admits to interrogating between 2000 and 2007, the numbers of those whose right to an attorney was blocked ranged between 8,379 to 10,773.
Attorney Irit Ballas of the Public Committee, who authored the epilogue of the report, entitled "When the Exception Becomes the Rule," says the relevant data for the years 2008-2010 suggests that the scope of this phenomenon has not been reduced.
Prisoner access to counsel is considered a basic right in Israeli law. Preventing such access is considered out-of-bounds and the maximum period such prohibition can be in effect, in security related cases, is 21 days. In Israeli military law, the minimum time permissible is 15 days and the maximum is 90 days.
According to the report, preventing a meeting with a lawyer for long periods of time enables illegal interrogation aimed at exhausting the prisoners and moving them to cells where undercover agents pretend to be regular prisoners. The report mentions a number of cases in which after a prolonged interrogation, the physical and psychological exhaustion resulted in admissions of relatively minor violations which were carried out several years earlier and did not justify the violation of the prisoners' rights.
The Shin Bet stated in response that "the phenomena of terrorism and espionage, which are the subject of Shin Bet investigations, have unique characteristics which justify the use of essential court arrangements to counter them. These arrangements were established by legislators and received extensive approval over the years by the courts, especially by the Supreme Court in its rulings. One of the tools given to the Shin Bet by law is the authority to prevent meetings between the suspects and a lawyer - the claim that preventing such meetings is meant to evade supervision over 'methods of physical and psychological abuse' are baseless."
The report describes as "fruitless" the legal efforts the Public Committee has undertaken in recent years against the phenomenon.
Some 70 percent of the hundreds of appeals that they submitted to the State Attorney, asking to revoke orders preventing meeting with an attorney, have been rejected. In the dozens of cases that were deliberated by the High Court, the judges were convinced by the Shin Bet's arguments.