Report: Israeli Doctors Failed to Report Abuse of Prisoners and Detainees

61-page report outlines various cases of alleged mistreatment, including beatings, threats and sleep deprivation; human rights groups suspect medical establishment allowed torture.

A recent report by two local human rights organizations accuses Israeli medical officials of failing to report injuries that suggest the mistreatment and torture of detainees and prisoners, in violation of professional ethics codes.

"Doctoring the Evidence, Abandoning the Victim," to be published later this month, was compiled by the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel. Based on affidavits from 100 detainees and prisoners since 2007, it states: "This report reveals significant evidence arousing the suspicion that many doctors ignore the complaints of their patients; allow Shin Bet security service interrogators to use torture; approve the use of forbidden interrogation methods and the ill-treatment of helpless detainees; and conceal information, thereby allowing total immunity for the torturers."

mughrabi - Alon Ron - November 4 2011
Alon Ron

The 61-page report outlines various cases of alleged mistreatment, including beatings, threats and sleep deprivation. It states that detainees were held for long periods of time in stressful positions, and that they had their hands tied tightly with plastic cuffs.

The report cites "countless cases wherein individuals testified to injuries inflicted upon them during detention or in interrogation, and yet the medical record from the hospital or the prison service makes no mention of it."

Without such evidence, the report says, it is difficult to obtain legal redress for the alleged mistreatment. "Effective documentation of the injury can be a decisive factor in initiating an investigation, in bringing the perpetrators to trial and in ensuring that justice is carried out," the report states. A medical report should include a description and photograph of the injury, the victim's account of events and a record of treatment, it states.

The report documents the case of a 26-year-old Palestinian, identified only as T.S., who was arrested in January 2009 near Ramallah. T.S. claimed he was roughed up by the arresting officers and bitten by a police dog, according to the report. He was reportedly treated at Jerusalem's Shaare Zedek Medical Center while blindfolded and shackled. According to the report, his interrogators spoke with medical personnel, and T.S. said he only realized he was at a medical facility after seeing the nurses' shoes through his blindfold.

Medical case records obtained by the Public Committee described T.S.'s dog bite and his treatment, but not the circumstances of the injury. This is an apparent violation of international conventions, to which Israel is a signatory, obligating medical personnel to report suspicious injuries.

A complaint against the arresting officers was filed in January 2010, transferred to the department of the Justice Ministry that investigates police misconduct, and closed about a year later on grounds of absence of culpability.

Shaare Zedek officials said in response: "The medical documents state explicitly that he was treated for a bite, and the doctors have no way to determine the source of the bite."

Another case involving an alleged failure to document suspicious injuries involves R.A., a Palestinian who claims he was assaulted by Border Police officers in the Old City of Jerusalem during his arrest. He was brought by officers to Hadassah University Hospital, Ein Karem, where a gash to his face was sutured.

In his affidavit, R.A. stated that he told an Arabic-speaking medical official that his injuries were caused by police officers. The unnamed staff member indicated in his emergency room and hospital discharge charts that the injuries were caused by a blow to the head, but the staff member did not include any references to the circumstances.

In March, the Public Committee submitted a complaint on R.A.'s behalf to Prof. Shlomo Mor-Yosef, director general of the Hadassah Medical Organization, over the hospital physicians' "failure to properly document violence against R.A." and to report the incident to authorities outside the hospital, as well as to a hospital social worker or department head, as required.

Hadassah said in a statement that it provides the best medical care to all its patients, regardless of the circumstances of the disease or injuries. It added that because the patient was referred by the Israel Prison Service and accompanied by Border Police officers, "It was clear that the authorities were aware of his arrival and did not need additional notification. Unfortunately, the medical records relating to the treatment provided by Hadassah were apparently taken by the patient or someone acting on his behalf."

The report cites evidence collected by the NGOs showing that medical personnel in some cases allegedly prioritized the interrogation process over the needs of patients.

When physicians return detained patients to authorities - in some cases even after witnessing the infliction of injuries - they violate their obligation to the patient, the report claims. In some cases, according to the report, investigators are given medical information on the detainee, apparently without the patient's consent.

Ishai Menuchin, executive director of the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, said most abused prisoners and detainees do not submit official complaints due to their mistrust of the Israeli justice system. "They're afraid they'll be persecuted if they complain," Menuchin said. "After all, during their interrogation they are helpless in the hands of their interrogators, and see a doctor only when they are hurt. We would have expected physicians to aid them and not to support the establishment, but the findings of the report belie that."

Among the report's recommendations are clear guidelines regarding the medical treatment of prisoners, investigations of and disciplinary action against staff who violate rules, and protection for whistle-blowers.

The Health Ministry said in a statement that it has no knowledge of medical personnel being involved in the abuse or torture of detainees or prisoners in Israel, that medical records are kept on these individuals and that an independent committee investigates reports of abuse.

"The Health Ministry, the IMA's ethics bureau, the prison service's medical division and the Shin Bet have written guidelines for conduct that will be distributed to hospital staff and administrators," the statement said.

Senior hospital physicians have told Haaretz that they were unaware of the new committee and had not received directives from the Health Ministry on the issue.

"We have an internal protocol stipulating the need to document evidence of violence. We have a camera and document suspicious injuries for use as legal evidence," said the director of an emergency room in a hospital in central Israel. He added that there is no clear reporting protocol for prisoners, unlike for suspected abuse against women, children or the elderly.

He said the physicians ask the accompanying officers to leave them alone with the patients when possible, for purposes of confidentiality, but admitted that it is not always possible to do so. He also said patients' medical charts include any evidence of abuse and are not given to the accompanying officers.

Dr. Leonid Eidelman, president of the Israel Medical Association, said in response that physicians have a duty to report any suspicion of abuse.

The Israel Prison Service said in a statement that it provides appropriate and professional medical treatment to all prisoners and that it is subject to official oversight.

Deputy Health Ministry Director General Dr. Boaz Lev said that in July he asked the Israeli Association of Hospital Directors to increase awareness among physicians on the issue of detainees.

קראו כתבה זו בעברית: דו"ח: רופאים לא מדווחים על פציעות שמקורן בהתעללות בעצירים