The testimony of two young Palestinians from East Jerusalem about what goes on in the Shin Bet interrogation rooms indicates the security agency continues to use prohibited practices that might include torture. The pair, Yazan al-Rajbi, 21, and his cousin, Mohammed al-Rajbi, 19, were arrested on suspicion of throwing stones at police and were interrogated by the Shin Bet for more than a month until they confessed to the charges. They were convicted and sentenced to eight months in prison. What persuaded them to confess, they said, was a series of banned practices that are unacceptable in a democratic country.
“Investigators left me tied me to a chair with my hands cuffed behind me and legs cuffed in front,” he said. “I stayed that way for two days, without going to the bathroom, without drinking and without eating,” Yazan al-Rajbi said. After a few days of interrogation, the interrogators received security footage proving that he was somewhere else when the stones were thrown, as he had told them. “Instead of releasing me, they started to question me about another case of stone-throwing that took place five days after the first one,” he says. “I asked them to bring me my phone so I could prove that I wasn’t there at that time, but the investigator refused and called me a liar. They interrogated me for several days, each time for 17 or 19 hours straight.”
Between sessions, al-Rajbi was put in solitary confinement in a room that he and others have estimated at about one meter by two meters in size. They say its low ceiling makes it impossible to stand up straight. During another interrogation, al-Rajbi said the investigators put him in a low wooden cabinet. “My head was between my legs, which were cuffed,” he said. “My hands were handcuffed behind me.” The torture and abuse continued. In the end, he broke down and confessed, more proof that torture often leads to false confessions (Nir Hasson, Haaretz, May 23). Yazan’s cousin Mohammed told of similar torture.
As far back as 1999, the High Court of Justice ruled that the Shin Bet is not authorized to use physical means of coercion during interrogations, including waiting in the “Shabach” position (involving “the cuffing of the suspect, seating him on a low chair, covering his head with a sack, and playing loud music in the area”), the “frog crouch”(“consecutive, periodical crouches on the tips of one’s toes, each lasting for five minute intervals”) and sleep deprivation. The High Court left a narrow opening in cases of a “ticking bomb” but made clear that even in such cases, “need” is not a source of authority to use these methods of interrogation – it might only serve in the defense of an interrogator if the latter is prosecuted. But this case was not a “ticking bomb.” The crime of one of the young men was throwing a few stones, and the other was of throwing one stone, and the Shin Bet allegedly tortured them to obtain a confession to a crime that had already been committed.
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The unit that investigates complaints of interrogated suspects must examine this case, but that is not enough. The current case is more proof of the need to expand video documentation, even of Shin Bet interrogations. Moreover, the time has come to pass a comprehensive law against torture, because as long as there is an opening to interpret the law to allow torture, torture will continue.
The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.