Close the PID

It is not really clear what they decided there in the Justice Ministry: Is there to be a pre-investigation examination?

Yes, close it down. Even after the decision to reopen the cases that were closed regarding the October 2000 disturbances, there is no choice but to dismantle the Justice Ministry's Police Investigations Department (PID) and rebuild it from the foundations.

In fact, it is not really clear what they decided there in the Justice Ministry: Is there to be a pre-investigation examination? Is it a case of second thoughts or regret over the first thought? Do they intend to reopen things for a whitewash or to really wash away the dirt? The zigzag was so fast and sharp - a genuine harake, a wheel spinning, tire-screeching joy ride - that it makes the head spin and blurs one's vision: already it is difficult to see the true direction.

The musical chairs are playing a sad melody - a kind of requiem for the rule of law: The state prosecutor, Eran Shendar, wandered from one chair to the next, and in his new post he is defending himself in his old capacity. During the events of October 2000, he was head of the PID, and now he is defending his blunders from those days. The attorney general, Menachem Mazuz, was quick to leap to the defense of the PID and thus with his own hand eliminated himself as an address for appeal - both harake and hara-kiri.

The PID's failure is both structural and inevitable. The department was created to take investigations of the police away from the force and entrust them to those who are not themselves bound by past-present-future relations to the police.

But it turns out that the umbilical cord was not cut: the PID is still staffed largely by people who came from the police and by those who will be returning to the police force. If so, what benefit accrues to the system from these efforts? None, in fact; only loss, because pretense is always the worst of all possibilities. Misrepresentation is a punishable offense - and the PID is just that, an impostor. Justice can certainly not be done, still less be seen as long as the PID is the police in a mask.

The last State Comptroller's Report exposed facts that are simply unbelievable. Because these reports are not best-sellers, the facts are insufficiently known. Here they are: In 2002, 2,227 files dealing with complaints of unlawful use of force by police, constituting about 65 percent of all such complaints, were closed without being investigated. In 2003, 2,497 such files were shelved - 64 percent of all the complaints of excessive use of force. The state comptroller wrote: "Failure to investigate such a high proportion of complaints of this kind and shelving them without further handling ... is liable ... to be construed by the police as validation of unacceptable behavior, and by the public as making light of the seriousness of complaints of unlawful and excessive use of force."

The state comptroller also noted another amazing fact: Many policemen get promoted while a complaint against them is still under investigation. And more fascinating information: Since 1992, the Justice and Public Security ministries have been holding discussions about civilianizing the PID. Thirteen years of barren discussions, with no conclusions.

At one stage, the police force itself favored the department's civilianization. Who was against? The heads of the PID. Why were they against? In the present situation they enjoy the best of all worlds: they are both police and not police - and life is comfortable, and who doesn't want to get ahead in life?

It is only now, early this week, and of course "without connection" to the recent foul-ups, that we have been informed of a plan "to civilianize the PID" in another four years. An investigative department undoubtedly understands the meaning of "burden of proof" and who it devolves upon after so many years of foot-dragging.

The state comptroller sums up the discussions, which had no conclusion: "Decisions about the steps required to civilianize the PID were not taken ... The [relevant] bodies stopped dealing with the subject and it was completely neglected during the past few years."

And if all this is not enough to convict the PID, here is another detail in the words of the comptroller: "A substantial proportion of the PID investigators who are on loan from the police do not have the rank required for the assignment they have been given." The result is that the investigation of the events of October 2000 fell into hands that are not entirely clean, and are certainly not independent or skilled.

The accusations of racism that were hurled at the attorney general and the state prosecutor stuck fast, but they are definitely not like that. They are hurt and protesting. Still, there is a problem here: People who harbor prejudices are not always aware of their putrid opinions, and some of their best friends are Jews, and maybe even Arabs.