A Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem said he was interrogated 14 times for extended periods while cuffed, in a “cruel, inhuman and humiliating manner,” according to a complaint filed against the Shin Bet security service. The Justice Ministry, however, decided not to open a criminal probe.
Tarek Bargut said the Shin Bet interrogator beat him every time he fell asleep and cursed and shouted at him during the interrogation. According to law enforcement officials, this use of sleep deprivation is exceptional in Shin Bet interrogations – both in terms of the length of questioning periods and the number of hours the subject is deprived of sleep.
The unit that examines complaints against the Shin Bet confirmed Bargut’s claims of sleep deprivation during interrogations but the Justice Ministry decided that the incident did not warrant launching a criminal probe.
Bargut, who is a lawyer, was a criminal attorney and represented many Palestinians who were arrested on suspicion of terror attacks and other security offenses. In February 2019, he was arrested by the police and the Shin Bet on suspicion of shooting at vehicles in the West Bank. Bargut said that he had done so in protest against the treatment of Palestinians by the Israeli justice system. Bargut carried out some of the attacks together with Zakaria Zubeidi, the former commander of the Al Aqsa Brigades in Jenin. Among other things, the pair carried out an attack near Beit El in which a driver was slightly wounded. The two were arrested after a night during which they planned to carry out another attack.
At first Zubeidi and Bargut denied the suspicions, but after Zubeidi was shown evidence, he admitted his involvement. Zubeidi also reconstructed one of the attacks in the presence of Bargut, who was brought to the scene by interrogators. Bargut then admitted to his involvement, as well as to two shootings that security officials had not been aware of. Bargut reached a plea agreement with the state to serve 13 years in prison in exchange for his confession.
However, Bargut claimed that he had been tortured during interrogation, and filed a complaint during the interrogation period itself, on March 29, 2019. In addition to sleep deprivation, Bargut stated, interrogators also arrested his wife and forced him to watch as she was led in handcuffs. This was part of an interrogation technique intended to break him and make him confess to the crimes he was suspected of.
In March, three years after Bargut filed his complaints against his interrogators, the unit that handles complaints in the Shin Bet published its findings, according to which Bargut’s claims of sleep deprivation were found to be justified. “From the probe it emerges that the complainant was indeed deprived of sleep during long periods of interrogation,” wrote the unit’s head, Shlomi Abramson. According to the details of the report, Bargut was interrogated 14 times in “extended interrogations,” the briefest of which was 27 hours and 35 minutes and the longest of which was 47 hours and 55 minutes. Only a month after his arrest, when Bargut began to connect himself to the attacks, did the interrogations become shorter, and there were days when he was not interrogated at all.
- 'The Shin Bet Breaks You. You'd Be Insane Not to Give a False Confession'
- 'We Arrested Countless Palestinians for No Reason,' Says Ex-top Shin Bet Officer
- Latest Attacks in Israel Represent Shin Bet Intel Failure, Officials Say
The use of sleep deprivation by the Shin Bet is considered exceptional, and is done only when it is believed that the suspect holds information connected to future attacks, the Shin Bet said. “The interrogations of the complainant were indeed intensive because of the suspicion against him of carrying out shooting attacks, planning additional shooting attacks together with others that were not apprehended, and his possession of weapons that was not revealed and that he was concealing information that could lead to the thwarting of additional attacks,” Abramson wrote. However, in the end, no indictment was issued against Bargut on these suspicions.
The unit’s probe also looked into Bargut’s claims that he had been humiliated by his interrogators. In response to these claims, a senior Shin Bet interrogator known as “Niso” admitted that he described Bargut to his face as “green juice from garbage.” The report stated that “Niso” also “confirmed that when Bargut fell asleep he would wake him by kicking the table and raising his voice.” Abramson noted that he found that these actions “do not exceed the boundaries of what is permissible during interrogation.”
Abramson added: “The prolonged interrogations are carried out after receiving all relevant permissions and giving breaks for rest, in keeping with procedures…although the complainant was interrogated for very long and intensive periods, we did not think this justified launching a criminal investigation. However, we believe that it justifies clarifying the matter before the Shin Bet and this will be done, going forward.” The unit investigating such complaints has so far only ordered the opening of two files against Shin Bet personnel, and in both cases those involved were not indicted.
A person close to Bargut told Haaretz: “Sitting on a chair when your hands are cuffed tightly for two days and nights, and you are treated brutally to wake you up, shouldn’t this be called torture? Beyond this, improper use made of the arrest of family members to wring out a confession. When they showed him his wife under arrest, it was intended to pressure him as he saw her crying and shaking."
The Shin Bet responded: “At the end of the investigation it was determined that the findings do not justify launching a criminal investigation or taking disciplinary or other steps against any of the interrogators,” adding: “Tarek Bargut was convicted by his confession in the framework of a plea bargain of serious security offenses, and he was sentenced to a lengthy prison term.”
The Justice Ministry responded: “The supervisors of security interrogations monitored the interrogation of Tarek Bargut at various segments of time. In the segments that were monitored no irregularities or support for the complainant’s claims were found and exceptional events did not emerge.”
With regard to the long period of time the case was under review, the ministry said that the unit “did not begin to investigate the complaint until the complainant’s trial was over," as occasionally probes can only be carried out after some time has elapsed following the complaint's filing. Also exacerbating the delay, said the ministry, was a backlog of work on the part of the unit and its chief, as well as pandemic-related difficulties.