Israel's Top Court Rules Against Palestinian Who Claims He Was Tortured by Shin Bet Interrogators

Court says no court intervention needed in interrogation of suspected Hamas explosives expert that included a ‘degree of pressure’

The High Court of Justice denied a petition by a Palestinian man who had demanded that a torture investigation be pursued against his Shin Bet internal security agency interrogators.

The Palestinian petitioner, Assad Abu Ghosh, who is in his 40s, was arrested in 2007 on suspicion of serving as an explosives expert for Hamas in the West Bank town of Nablus. He was joined in his petition by the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel. The case was decided last week. It had been before the court for the past five years.

Justices Uri Shoham, Hanan Melcer and Miriam Naor, who has since retired as Supreme Court president, ruled that the petitioners had not proven that the decision to close the investigation of the Palestinian’s torture claims was an unreasonable one.

In the ruling, Justice Uri Shoham said he had not found clear grounds for court intervention in the ombudsman’s decision and that there was no basis for a criminal investigation against Abu Ghosh’s interrogators. There were also no grounds, he said, to conclude that the decision was unreasonable, let alone unreasonable in the extreme, which would have justified court intervention, Shoham said. The court’s ruling also noted that senior Justice Ministry officials had repeatedly examined the case and had decided on each occasion that the case should be closed.

Last year Haaretz disclosed that hundreds of Palestinians had complained to a Shin Bet ombudsman’s unit responsible for handling complaints by suspects under interrogation. The unit has not opened any criminal investigations against Shin Bet staff and has only one investigator of its own to handle the complaints.

Under interrogation, Abu Ghosh disclosed significant information about an explosives lab that he ran as well as the planning of terrorist activity. His questioning also led to the arrest of another terrorist and the discovery of an explosives belt that had already been smuggled into Tel Aviv and hidden on Nachlat Binyamin Street for use in an attack.

Abu Ghosh was convicted in a plea deal of membership in a prohibited organization, producing explosives and illegal weapons possession. In September 2007, after meeting with a representative of the Red Cross, Abu Ghosh complained that he had been subjected to violence in his interrogation. He complained of torture, including being bound in the “banana position,” with his hands held high and his fingers bent.

The Shin Bet ombudsman’s unit met with Abu Ghosh and his interrogators. The interrogators said they had no alternative but using a degree of pressure on Abu Ghosh to save lives. The unit decided to close the case, but added that the investigations that were carried out as a result of Abu Ghosh’s complaint had led to new lessons learned within the agency.

The High Court decision follows a reexamination of the case because of time that had elapsed since the original investigation, the ombudsman’s unit was transferred from the Shin Bet itself to the Justice Ministry with the goal of making it a more independent and objective body. On reexamination, it was again decided that the file should be closed.

A ledger from the Shin Bet’s investigation of the case include the following details: “The petitioner [Abu Ghosh] complained of pain to his lower back and right knee, and it was noted that the petitioner fell and had an injury in the area of his knee, which was bandaged. The petitioner complained about lower back pain and was found to be ‘sensitive to pressing on the lower back on the left [and] right.’ What was written in the ledger should be read in conjunction with another statement, that prior to his arrest, the petitioner had suffered from a problem in his knee, foot and back that had manifested themselves in periodic pain.”

The petition filed by Abu Ghosh included professional opinions from the Public Committee Against Torture by doctors and a psychologist who had examined Abu Ghosh. The opinions have not been made public, but the petitioners claim they support Abu Ghosh’s claim. The court ruled, however, that the professional opinions were to be accorded little weight in part due to the long period between the interrogation and the experts’ examination.