Israel Must Say 'No' to Torture

Human and civil rights aren’t the property of any particular national, ethnic or religious group; everyone deserves to enjoy them.

Attorneys representing the Jewish terror detainees addressing a press conference on Thursday.
Olivier Fitoussi

The testimony of the suspects in last summer’s murder of the Dawabsheh family in Duma reveals the continued use of practices in Shin Bet security service interrogations that could amount to torture.

In 1999, the High Court of Justice ruled that the Shin Bet’s use of violent interrogation techniques was unacceptable. It said the agency had no legal authority to use techniques like shaking suspects, covering their heads with a sack, depriving them of sleep, tying them in painful positions and so forth, and neither the government nor the Shin Bet had the authority to issue general guidelines or permits for the use of such physical methods in the interrogation of suspected terrorists.

Nevertheless, in response to the state’s concerns over cases of “ticking bombs,” the court said there could be circumstances that would retroactively allow an interrogator to use the defense of “necessity” to protect himself from criminal proceedings, if he used techniques that are generally forbidden to deal with a danger that could not be prevented in any other way. Yet even so, the court stressed that the defense of necessity does not constitute an authorization to use these illegal techniques.

Over the years, suspicions have arisen that use of such physical methods has recurred many times, far beyond the narrow opening left by the High Court, which was intended only to absolve an interrogator after the act, not to create an a priori policy. Following many complaints by Palestinians who underwent Shin Bet interrogations, the High Court was even asked to find the state in contempt of court for not obeying its 1999 ruling. But in 2009, the court rejected this request, saying contempt proceedings were not a suitable vehicle for examining the issues raised by the request.

The case of the suspects in the Duma murder indicates that these techniques are being used not merely to prevent “ticking bombs,” but to investigate a murder that has already been committed. Even though the atrocity committed in Duma must be harshly condemned, the need to investigate it does not justify the use of torture.

Using torture is unacceptable both because of the severe injury it causes to a person’s body and dignity, and because torture often results in false confessions. A confession obtained by torture is disqualified as evidence. Torture is a tool of benighted regimes, which use it to suppress their own civilian populations. The widespread use of these techniques against Palestinians in the past, and even today, attests that torture is also employed as a tool to suppress weaker groups.

It’s a pity that extreme right-wing activists, who are currently waging a campaign in favor of human and civil rights, don’t disseminate the same talking points when it comes to Palestinian detainees, but often even encourage harming them. Human and civil rights aren’t the property of any particular national, ethnic or religious group; everyone deserves to enjoy them.