Bill Set to Grant Israel Police Immunity When Quizzing Suspects

The practice of not recording interrogations has been in place since 2002 but is not permanently anchored in law.

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation this week decided to support a bill that will allow the police to permanently avoid recording interrogations of suspects in cases involving security violations. However, three ministers - Dan Meridor, Benny Begin and Michael Eitan - have challenged the decision and called on the cabinet to reject the proposed bill.

The Public Security Ministry provided a number of arguments to back the proposal. The practice of not recording interrogations has been in place since 2002 but is not permanently anchored in law. One of the arguments was that the recording of interrogations provides terrorist organizations with "lessons learned," which aid them in developing methods of overcoming interrogation techniques.

Israel police.
Moti Kimche

Ministry officials also argued that the recording of questioning deters those suspects who do wish to offer information and cooperation, claiming that the suspects fear it will be revealed to their colleagues.

The Public Security Ministry also argued that the Shin Bet security service already enjoys immunity when interrogating security suspects. This is in order to prevent the leaking of its methods, protect the identity of the interrogators, and the identity of their sources. Many of the Shin Bet investigations are currently being carried out under the authority of the police.

The decision not to record interrogations was allowed for the first time in 2002, for the duration of five years. In 2007 this was extended for a further four years, and now the government would like to permanently allow the police not to record the process.

The Ministerial Committee approved the bill once the head of the interrogations department at the Shin Bet appeared before them and said that these interrogations are being carried out according to the letter of the law.

However, "security violations" is a broad category which includes violations dating back to the period of the British Mandate. As such, these include the disruption of the functioning of ports and airports, which could make striking workers or demonstrators "security suspects."

Ministers Meridor, Begin and Eitan wrote in their challenge to the decision that "insisting on a recording of interrogations is an important element in our efforts against the delegitimization directed against Israel throughout the world today. If interrogations are not recorded, the perception is that things are hidden."

Israel, say the three ministers, is obligated by the UN Convention Against Torture to undertake effective measures to ensure that inappropriate means are not used during questioning.

In challenging the decision, the three ministers said the temporary hiatus of recording interrogations should be extended for one more year. During that time, the police and the Shin Bet would be instructed to prepare for the orderly recording of interrogations of suspects in security violations.

"Thousands of suspects who were interrogated know the means that were used. However, as long as there is the need to preserve the secrecy of the recording of certain interrogations, regulations governing their secrecy should be put in place ... while preserving the proper balance between the rights of suspects and the need for secrecy," the three explained.