Israel Launches Unprecedented Criminal Probe Against Shin Bet Interrogator

This is the first investigation to be opened since the establishment of a unit dedicated to complaints against Israel's internal security service

Right-wing activists reenact Shin Bet torture tactics during a demonstration in Tel Aviv, 2015.
\ Moti Milrod

The Justice Ministry has opened a criminal investigation against a Shin Bet interrogator suspected of committing prohibited acts in the course of duty.

This is the first investigation to be opened against a Shin Bet operative since the establishment more than a decade and a half ago of a Justice Ministry unit, known by the Hebrew acronym Mivtan, to investigate complaints against the Shin Bet.

Until now, hundreds of complaints about torture during interrogations have not been investigated. The criminal investigation was begun last year, and stems from a field interrogation that took place in 2015.

The opening of a criminal investigation against a Shin Bet agent requires the approval of both Mivtan and the Police Internal Investigations Department, known as Mahash. Two sources say Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit was involved in the decision. It has also been learned that the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, the main organization that deals with this issue, was not the one that filed the complaint against the investigator.

The Justice Ministry confirms that an investigation was opened in the wake of a complaint filed more than a year ago, but would not answer other questions about it, such as who filed the complaint, what actions it refers to, what the possible charges are and why the matter was only turned into an investigation so long after the incident occurred. The ministry would only say, “The matter is still being handled, therefore we cannot comment on it at this time.”

Mivtan is a parallel agency to Mahash, with the purpose of investigating complaints about Shin Bet personnel. Initially it was under the Shin Bet, but in 2013 it was transferred to the Justice Ministry. Until recently, the agency employed just a single investigator. Last year it was supposed to recruit two more. So far, one investigator has been added, and the Justice Ministry notes that he speaks Arabic and has experience with interrogations.

Last year Haaretz reported that from 2009-2016, Mivtan received hundreds of complaints about prohibited torture during interrogations (the majority came from Palestinians, and a few from Jewish Israelis), and since 2001 the Public Committee Against Torture has also filed thousands of complaints. However, until now, not one has led to a criminal investigation or trial.

The Justice Ministry says, “The process of examining the complaints has frequently led to different system-wide lessons being applied, or to disciplinary action being taken against investigators.” In the past year alone, 50 examinations were started.

Attorney Efrat Bergman-Sapir of the Public Committee Against Torture says, “We are pleased to see that the unit – after 16 years – has decided for the first time in its history to open a criminal investigation against Shin Bet personnel about whom complaints of the use of torture have been made. This is an important step that signals to the Shin Bet that it, too, is subject to the law and will no longer enjoy total immunity as it has up to now. We hope that the investigation will be conducted quickly and professionally.”