Israel Police Use Dubious Ways to Get Confessions, Report Finds

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A detainee attends a court session over extending his detention, in Israel.
A detainee attends a court session over extending his detention, in Israel.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

Israel Police interrogation methods increase the chance of obtaining false confessions and convicting innocent people, a report obtained by Haaretz shows.

According to the report compiled by Israeli academic researchers who insisted on remaining anonymous, Israel and the United States are the only states among the 10 democracies examined in which interrogators lie to suspects to try to make them confess to crimes.

Interrogators in Israel are allowed to lie to suspects about testimony, recordings, fingerprints and video clips. They are forbidden only to show the suspects false documents.

Other democracies – Belgium, Italy, Britain, Germany and The Netherlands – forbid interrogators to lie to suspects in interrogation rooms. France and Switzerland don’t forbid it unequivocally, but interrogators don’t do it, the report shows.

Unlike the United States, Belgium, Italy, Switzerland, Britain and The Netherlands, the law in Israel and in Germany does not recognize a suspect’s right to be interrogated in their lawyer’s presence.

The main interrogation model in the United States and in Israel, known as the Reid Technique, is more aggressive than in other democracies. Under this model the interrogators make an effort to extract a confession of guilt from the suspect at almost any cost. In fact, the suspect’s presumption of innocence is replaced in the interrogation room with the presumption of guilt.

In the Reid Technique, the first stage of the interrogation has the interrogator telling the suspect that he already has evidence proving his guilt. At the next stage the interrogator feigns empathy and provides the suspect with a moral justification for the offense he’s suspected of, while suppressing his attempts to deny the act. Later the interrogator gives the suspect two alternatives. One involves reducing the level of guilt. For example, the suspect can be asked “did you plan the murder or did you do it in a momentary outburst of anger?”

After the suspect confirms one of the alternatives and confesses to committing the crime, the interrogator tries to obtain from him a basic description of how it was carried out. Finally, the interrogator tries to turn the oral confession into a written one.

In most other democracies, the Reid Technique is unacceptable as a main interrogation model. In Belgium, Britain and Germany the interrogation method, called Peace, is much softer and consists of the interrogator encouraging the suspect to tell his version. The interrogator must ask open-ended questions and avoid complicated questions as much as possible to avoid confusion.

At this stage it is possible to confront the suspect with information that contradicts his statement, if it exists, but it’s not permitted to lie to him. In the final stages the interrogator must summarize the suspect’s version with him and allow him to correct it and ask questions.

At the end of the interrogation the interrogator must assess whether the suspect’s version is compatible with all the material gathered and decide whether to continue the interrogation.

In recent years numerous cases of aggressive interrogations of criminal suspects whose rights have been denied have come to light in courts and in the media. In some cases it transpired that suspects had been falsely convicted of grave crimes because of the interrogation’s failings.

In August 2018, for example, the Supreme Court acquitted Elisha Haibatov, who had been convicted of murder and served 12 years in prison, due to a serious violation of his rights as a suspect. In November 2011, the Supreme Court acquitted Hamed Zinati of a murder conviction due to interrogation failures. This was similar to the case of Amos Baranes, who had been convicted in 1976 of murdering Rachel Heller. At present Roman Zadorov, who was convicted of murdering 13-year-old Ta’ir Rada, is undergoing a retrial after his lawyer presented opinions that raised doubts about his conviction.

Roman Zadorov at court, last week.Credit: Emil Salman

In 2018 the committee to examine wrongful convictions and correct them was set up. It is headed by retired Supreme Court Justice Yoram Danziger, who was of the minority opinion that Zadorov should have been given the benefit of the doubt and acquitted.

The committee recently issued an interim report and recommended setting up a unit to regulate forensic examinations. Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar is advancing a proposal for a quasi-constitutional Basic Law to ensure suspects’ rights, as well as legislation to enable the disqualification of illegally obtained evidence.

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