Claims Against Its Agents Mount, but Shin Bet Opens No Criminal Inquests

Data disclosed at Haaretz's request reveals that since 2001, hundreds of complaints were filed with the unit that handles complaints against interrogated suspects but none led to a criminal investigation.

An Israeli actor demonstrating one of several standard torture techniques reportedly used by the Shin Bet security service during interrogations of Palestinian prisoners, May 19, 1998.
Jacqueline Larma/AP

The Shin Bet unit that handles complaints against suspects interrogated by the security service has never opened a single criminal investigation against any of its personnel or had an indictment made against a member of the organization’s staff.

This is despite the fact that hundreds of complaints if not more have been submitted to the unit, known by its Hebrew acronym Mivtan, since it was established.

Data disclosed at the request of Haaretz reveals that since 2001, hundreds of complaints were filed with the unit but none led to a criminal investigation.

In 2013, the Justice Ministry announced that the unit would no longer be directed by a Shin Bet staffer. Instead the ministry appointed an outside lawyer, Jana Mudzgurishvilly, in an effort to increase the public’s confidence in the unit. However, since then no formal criminal inquests have been launched either.

In 2013, there were 67 informal inquiries conducted by the unit. In 2014, the figure rose to 148, but in 2015, it dropped to 56, followed by 57 in 2016. None of these inquiries has resulted in criminal investigations despite serious allegations leveled against the agency by numerous complainants, both Arab and Jewish, including allegations of torture.

In 2013, the Justice Ministry announced that the unit would no longer be directed by a Shin Bet staffer. Instead the ministry appointed an outside lawyer, Jana Mudzgurishvilly, in an effort to increase the public’s confidence in the unit. However, since then no formal criminal investigations have been launched either, just informal inquiries.

In 2013, 67 such inquiries were conducted by the unit. In 2014, the figure rose to 148, but in 2015, it dropped to 56, followed by 57 in 2016. None of these inquiries has resulted in criminal investigations despite serious allegations leveled against the agency by numerous complainants, both Arab and Jewish, including allegations of torture.

Following a report on Mivtan in these pages in December, the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee held a hearing on the unit’s conduct last week. Knesset members from the left and right alike demanded that its staff explain the data obtained by Haaretz, and asked that it submit figures to the committee on complaint files that had been closed.

The article last month reported, for example, that in correspondence with the attorney of a Jewish terror suspect, Mudzgurishvilly wrote that the unit doesn’t accept testimony from complainants while they are in the midst of legal proceedings. Unit staff said this measure is taken to avoid undermining those proceedings. But according to attorneys representing complainants, such a policy seriously compromises the Shin Bet's ability to investigate complaints properly.

The article also revealed that the unit only employs three full-time people – Mudzgurishvilly herself, an administrative person (apparently a secretary) and a single investigator who is responsible for dealing with all inquiries. There is also a student employed part-time.

It was revealed that two more investigators are expected to be taken on in the coming year. All the unit’s workers are employed by the Justice Ministry and paid from its budget.

At the time the ministry stated that, “Every complaint submitted to Mivtan is thoroughly examined by it, and afterward by senior Justice Ministry officials before a decision is made as to whether to launch an investigation against a Shin Bet investigator.

“Indeed, following preliminary inquiries over the past few years, there was no decision to launch an investigation against any investigator, but this is only after each one of the complaints was checked; after the complainants submitted their testimony (to the extent they agreed to cooperate); after the Shin Bet investigators were asked to address the claims; and after all the material documenting the interrogation in real time was collected. However, examination of the complaints has periodically led the system to draw various conclusions, or to take disciplinary or administrative action against investigators.”