Israel Must Stop the Torture

Torture during an interrogation has no place in a democracy. All it yields are false confessions and distortions of justice.

Torture methods.

The admissions by Shin Bet investigators published in Haaretz Tuesday confirm the claims that have been heard for years about torture during interrogations.

“It’s important to make clear to the suspect that an interrogation isn’t necessarily just questions and answers. It has to be clear that to get answers, the efforts at persuasion won’t solely be verbal.” This is how N., a former senior investigator in the security service, justified the use of force during questioning.

The investigators described illegal means including shouting, slapping, blindfolding, back-bending and other painful positions until the suspect breaks. According to a conversation among interrogators in the presence of several witnesses, the investigators are well aware of the harsh effect these means have on suspects. They noted that they don’t stop the torture even if the suspect screams or cries.

According to one investigator, the methods are carefully chosen to be effective enough to break the suspect’s spirit without causing permanent damage or leaving marks.

In 1999 the High Court of Justice banned the use of torture. It ruled that the Shin Bet’s use of violent methods was invalid, and that the security service had no legal authority to use methods such as shaking, covering a suspect’s head with a bag, withholding sleep and painful tying. The court said that neither the government nor the Shin Bet had the authority to set guidelines, rules or permits to use physical means when interrogating terror suspects.

Regarding the state’s argument about “ticking bombs”– when information is needed urgently to prevent a possible attack – the High Court conceded that under certain circumstances the “necessity defense” could be used in retrospect to protect an interrogator from criminal prosecution. The court stressed, however, that this did not confer the right to use illegal methods from the outset.

But the testimonies published Tuesday show that this breach has often been exploited, and that Israeli investigative agencies have a system for approving torture that empties the High Court ruling of all meaning. Following numerous complaints by Palestinian suspects, a contempt-of-court motion was filed with the High Court on grounds that its ruling was being ignored, but in 2009 the court rejected the motion, saying the contempt-of-court procedure wasn’t appropriate for this issue.

The Israeli security forces have enough draconian measures to use against suspects, including harsh detention conditions, blocking meetings with a lawyer, psychological manipulation and deception. Hiding behind the “ticking bomb” excuse and routinely issuing permits to torture are incompatible with the spirit of the High Court decision.

Torture during questioning has no place in a democracy. The attorney general must immediately forbid the use of such means, which often lead to false confessions and distortions of justice. Preventing a crime does not justify committing another crime.