Shin Bet Unit That Probes Alleged Violations of Suspects' Rights Operates Without Leader

The department is now undertaking its first criminal investigation in which a complaint has become a full criminal investigation – without anyone at its helm

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An exhibit against the torture of right-wing activists in Tel Aviv, in 2015.
An exhibit against the torture of right-wing activists in Tel Aviv, in 2015.Credit: Moti Milrod

The head of the department of the Shin Bet security service responsible for investigating complaints about violations of suspects’ rights during interrogations, has left her post and while a tender process is underway to replace her, no decision has yet been made on the new head.

Jana Mudzgurishvilly, the outgoing head of Mivtan (as known by its Hebrew acronym), left at the end of September after serving for five years as head of the department.

The ombudsman’s unit for investigating complaints by those under Shin Bet investigation, similar to the Justice Ministry’s unit for investigating police officers, handles complaints against Shin Bet officers.

The unit is particularly important because the Shin Bet sometimes conducts investigations of “necessity,” which may be conducted using moderate physical pressure – if deemed necessary – and some have been considered to border on torture. Such interrogations are legal only in very specific circumstances, based on a High Court of Justice ruling, so an investigation of complaints in such cases is extremely important.

The department has received hundreds of complaints since it was founded in the early 1990s, but only one criminal investigation has resulted from these complaints, which was opened early this year, and is still under investigation. Now the unit has been operating for two weeks, while conducting its first criminal investigation, without a commander.

The minimum qualifications for the job were not set very high, certainly not compared to Mudzgurishvilly’s experience, who had previously served as the chief military prosecutor and retired from the Israel Defense Forces with the rank of full colonel.

Mudzgurishvilly was one of the leading candidates for the head of the Justice Ministry’s department for investigating police officers, but she was not chosen and decided to leave Mivtan.

The qualifications for filling her job only requires a law degree, five years of experience in investigations or oversight and examination of complaints, and any experience in managing employees. Even though almost all the complainants involved are Arabs, knowledge of Arabic is only a recommended qualification and not required. Because of the low level of qualifications needed, dozens of people applied for the job, including investigators, and lawyers from the State Prosecutor’s Office and other parts of the civil service.

The fact that during all its years of operation, only one criminal investigation, whose source was from a complaint originating in Mivtan, has been opened, shows the unit lacking, which in practice has no real investigative authority and a small number of employees, said sources in the law enforcement system.

The Justice Ministry and the Civil Service Commission began the selection process, which lasted until recently because of the large number of applicants. “The Justice Ministry is acting along with the Civil Service Commission to convene in the next few weeks the committee of examiners to choose the next head of Mivtan.”