JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli security interrogators routinely mistreat and sometimes torture Palestinian detainees, meting out abuse that includes beatings and contortion, Israeli human rights groups said in a new report on Sunday.
Israel’s Justice Ministry said the findings by the B’Tselem and HaMoked organizations were “fraught with mistakes, groundless claims and inaccuracies.”
In a report based on the testimonies of 73 Palestinians from the occupied West Bank detained between July 2005 and January 2006, the groups said the Shin Bet security service employs a seven-step “interrogation system.”
The methods for trying to extract information include solitary confinement “in putrid, stifling cells,” the painful binding of a detainee’s hands and feet to a chair, sleep disturbance and cursing and humiliation, the report said.
Such practices, the groups said, constitute “ill-treatment” under international law and violate an Israeli Supreme Court ban against interrogation methods aimed at breaking a detainee’s spirit.
In the cases of “ticking bombs,” a reference to Palestinians suspected of having information about an imminent attack on Israelis, the Shin Bet also uses “special methods” that mostly involve direct physical violence, according to the findings.
The abuse includes beatings and forcing detainees into a “frog” crouch on their tiptoes or bending them backwards in a “banana position” while they were seated on a backless chair and sleep deprivation, the report said.
“These measures are defined as torture under international law,” said the groups, which define their mission as protecting Palestinian human rights in Israeli-occupied territory. “Their use is not negligible, even if not routine.”
International and Israeli human rights groups have long complained about mistreatment of Palestinians held by Israel on suspicion of security offences.
B’Tselem and HaMoked said they broke new ground in their report by taking a proactive approach, contacting Palestinians who had been interrogated by the Shin Bet and asking them to provide testimony instead of investigating complaints received.
Israel’s legal authorities, the report said, received more than 500 complaints of Shin Bet ill-treatment since 2001 but did not carry out a single criminal investigation.
Israel’s Supreme Court, citing its opposition to torture, said in a landmark ruling in 1999 the Shin Bet did not have legal authority to use “physical means” of interrogation that are not “reasonable and fair” and cause the detainee to suffer.
But the court said a reasonable interrogation was likely to cause discomfort and put pressure on a suspect. This, the court said, was lawful only if it was not aimed at “breaking” a detainee’s spirit.
Responding to the findings, the Justice Ministry said Shin Bet investigations were “performed in accordance with the law, procedures and instructions while being regularly scrutinized” by ministerial and parliamentary oversight committees.
“The day-by-day fighting against terrorist infrastructure that seeks to carry out terrorist attacks … obligates the security services, including the investigators of (the Shin Bet) to make every effort to foil and disrupt such aspirations,” the ministry said in a statement.
“The last few years saw many civilians’ lives saved as a direct consequence of data originating from those investigations,” it said.