Shin Bet Won't Be Forced to Record Footage of Interrogations

The security agency says militants would use video to learn how to cope with interrogation techniques.

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
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Israeli interrogators questioning a Palestinian boy.
Israeli interrogators questioning a Palestinian boy. Credit: Screenshot
ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

A government panel agrees with the Shin Bet security service that the agency should not be required to record footage of its interrogations, contrary to recommendations by a committee in 2013.

The panel was addressing the recommendations by the Turkel Committee, which was established after the Mavi Marmara incident in May 2010, when Israeli commandos raided a Turkish protest ship headed for Gaza.

The panel probed whether investigations of war-crimes claims against Israel adhered to Western standards. The government panel thus rejected the recommendations by the committee and former Shin Bet head Yuval Diskin.

The Turkel Committee sought to determine whether Israel broke international law and whether the commandos committed war crimes. In February 2013 the committee submitted its findings on Israeli interrogation procedures.

“Documenting Shin Bet interrogations will strengthen the effectiveness of investigating complaints by people following their interrogation,” the committee wrote. It recommended the “complete visual documentation of interrogations, according to guidelines set by the attorney general in coordination with the Shin Bet head.”

The committee members relied in part on the ideas of Diskin, whom they met a month before he retired. Diskin believed that interrogators had to be better supervised.

“Visual documentation should be considered favorably, even if not everyone likes the idea — I think it would be the right thing to do,” he said.

The government panel was led by Joseph Ciechanover, a former Finance Ministry director general. Its discussions lasted more than a year and a half; on Sunday it submitted its report to the prime minister and on Monday released it for publication.

The Ciechanover report describes how Diskin’s successor, current Shin Bet chief Yoram Cohen, and the security service's legal adviser adamantly oppose the documentation of Shin Bet interrogations.

The Shin Bet says its investigations often overlap police investigations, so Shin Bet findings might serve as evidence in criminal proceedings and be turned over to the accused and his lawyers. The Shin Bet said “full visual documentation” would be requested as evidence.

According to the report, “Shin Bet officials claim that such documentation could impede the nature of their investigation and the foiling of terrorist activities.”

Shin Bet officials say they fear that the release of footage in criminal cases would reveal the agency's methods and thus hamper its effectiveness.

According to the Shin Bet, some suspects receive training from terror groups on how to act under interrogation, based on information from previous suspects. Through released footage, militants could learn how to cope with interrogation techniques.

Also, some detainees would be deterred from giving information, knowing that their cooperation could be exposed later.

The panel therefore abandoned the recommendations by the Turkel Committee and offered an alternative, which was accepted by Cohen and Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein.

The panel recommends that interrogation rooms should contain cameras that send live and taped footage to a control room. Justice Ministry supervisors would have access to the site and would be free to make spot inspections at any time, and interrogators would not know if they were being observed.

The supervisor could take notes but the video would not be retained for future viewing. The supervisor would report to the ministry any banned interrogation methods.

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