ISRAELI TORTURE IS SYSTEMATIC AND “LEGAL”
MER FLASHBACK – 3rd Week January 1997:
[MER – Torture of Palestinians is not only routine and systematic, in it actually sanctioned by the Israeli legal system that has been twisted to serve Israeli policies. Going back to the Shinbet scandal of the early 1980’s, even more sadistic forms of torture have given way to the kinds of ‘legalized’ torture methods outlined in this important article from one of the few independent and courageousmedia sources in Israel, The Alternative Information Center (AIC). Among the reasons the Israelis get away with such systematic torture of Palestinians is that hardly anyone is willing to protest. The so-called “Palestinian Authority” practices similar and even worse torture techniques, as do nearly all of the Arab governments in the region — so they are hardly in a position to protest. And the”liberal” American Jewish community has been morally bankrupt about such issues for so long now that to speak up at this point would be to condemn themselves for permitting, and even encouraging in many cases, such Nazi-like behavior by the Israelis for decades.]
ISRAELI JUSTICE ON TORTURE
A Shining Light Unto Nations?
“The entire Israeli establishment countenances torture…”
First, his head is covered with a thick rancid sack. It’s difficult to breathe. Handcuffed, he is bound in a twisted position to a kindergarten chair with hardly any back support and held there for four days straight. Every time his head falls when sleep overcomes him, he is slapped on his face to wake up. Maybe on the fifth day the handcuffs are removed and he is allowed to sleep in a tiny windowlesscell. Music is blaring in the cell around the clock. It is difficult to sleep with noise and the constant glare of the shining fluorescent light. On the sixth or seventh day, his head is covered again with the rancid sack, but this time, he is chained to a pole in the corridor and made to stand there for four more days. Or perhaps, he is handcuffed to a hook a meter from the ground and is forced to squat for three days; three days continuously that is. Or he is undressed and made to sit in front of a blasting air-conditioner for hours. There is no sleep. His hands are swollen from the tight handcuffs; he is vomiting from the prolonged contorted position he is heldin. He smells, unshaven, he wants to sleep.
This is ‘moderate physical pressure’ under Israeli law and it is legal. Under international law this is torture and is completely prohibited at all times. This ‘moderate physical pressure’ is routinely used by the Israeli secret police (‘GSS’) to extract confessions from Palestinian detainees under interrogation. The UNConvention Against Torture, of which Israel is a signatory, states that the use of any physical or psychological pressure which causes pain or humiliation is absolutely prohibited at all times.
What constitutes torture and degrading treatment is subjective — determined by the victims’ sensation of the physical and mental pain caused to him. Sitting in front of cold air may not on its face compare to torture methods like electric shock, but after two weeks of little sleep and sitting in contorted positions, undressed in themiddle of the rainy winter, 12 hours of the ‘air conditioner’ feels like hell. One detainee described it as ‘putting the air in a state of war with me’.
Despite the prohibitions under international law, the entire Israeli establishment countenances torture: The Israeli military courts routinely disregard claims of torture and extend the interrogations until the Israeli secret police finish the interrogation; the Ministry of Justice defends the torture in the Israeli High Court of Justice; the High Court of Justice itself puts the stamp of approval on the torture often rejecting petitions that request the court to order the GSS to cease the torture; the Israeli Knesset Ministerial Committee (composed of members of the Labor and Zionist Left parties including Yossi Sarid) consistently renews the license to the GSS Director granting him total discretion to determine when torture beyond‘moderate physical pressure’ can be used.
The GSS Director has just given his okay for the torture to go ‘beyond moderate physical pressure’. The detainee is grabbed by the shoulders or by his collar and shaken violently for seconds or minutes. His head convulses, rattled back and forth, incessantly, it feels as if it will fly off, he loses his stand, dizziness overtakes him, his body is on fire. Sometimes he falls unconscious; sometimes he just falls to theground. Or maybe he is beaten.
No one knows what methods constitute ‘moderate physical pressure’ or ‘beyond moderate physical pressure’ since GSS activities and methods are secret and unreviewable by the public. The information we know is derived solely from testimony of former torture victims.
The Perversion of the Israeli Legal System
Two weeks ago, the Israeli High Court of Justice, lead by Justice Aaron Barak, ruled that Muhammed Hamdan, a student from Bir Zeit University, could continue to be tortured. The Court deferred to the secret police’s ‘ticking bomb’ argument — that torture was necessary to uncover information to an imminent bomb attack. This despite the absolute prohibition against torture under international law and thefact that the imminence was doubtful — Hamdan had been in Israeli custody for over a month. The High Court gave such deference to the secret police, that one of the justices, Michael Cheshin, rebuked Hamdan’s lawyer as immoral for petitioning the court to stop the torture.
Later on that week, the High Court rejected another petition to order the secret police to stop using torture. In this case, the court ruled that the secret police could continue to deprive Khader Mubarek — another victim — of sleep and to cover his head continuously with a rancid sack. The court refused to issue a temporary order to halt the use of moderate physical pressure during the interrogation, but ordered the secret police to refrain from placing Mubarek in painful sitting positions.
The High Court’s decisions sanctioning torture demonstrate how perverted the Israeli legal system has become. In the name of preserving Israel’s ‘democracy’ and existence, the High Court of Justice routinely sanctions trespass on the liberal state’s most cherished assets — one’s body and one’s liberty. Justice Aaron Barak– the President of Israel’s Supreme Court, the same justice that is invited and honored by Harvard and Yale Law Schools and the American Bar Association as a leading liberal legal-jurisprudence thinker — is also the Justice who permits the GSS to torture, physically and mentally degrade others.
Instead of remaining true to the two most alienable principles of most legal systems — the presumption of innocence and the right to remain silent — Israeli justices and judges allow the GSS to treat every Palestinian under interrogation as a convicted terrorist and to torture him until he talks. Judge Shlomo Issacson, President of theRamallah military court1 and a religious Jew, ruled once that the Palestinian detainee in front of him deserved the ‘difficult’ interrogation because he had chosen to remain silent and was not ‘cooperating with the interrogators’ i.e. confessing. He extended the detainee’s interrogation for another 14 days with full knowledge thathe was returning the detainee to another round of torture.2 Torture corrupts both the victim and the torturer. Just as the victim remains psychologically and, at times, physically scarred by his traumatic experience, the torturer is mentally corrupted from dehumanizing his suspect and benefiting from his pain and suffering. The GSS torture has already corrupted the Israeli legal system. Cloaking themselves in the moral high ground of security and protecting Israel’s democratic existence, these justices and judges pervert all principles of human dignity and liberty and corrode the very foundation and raison d’etre of a democratic’ legal system. By continuingto permit and defend torture in all its forms, these justices and judges have becomea threat to the same liberal and free principles that they were appointed to protect.
‘When the state itself beats and extorts, it cannot longer be said to rest on foundations of morality and justice, but rather on force . . . Just as this situation is one of coercion and submission, so the state itself, which permits it, becomes a state of coercion and submission. When a state employs forceful means which no ends can justify, such as torture, it reduces the moral distance between a governmental act and a criminal act. . .’.3
1 Despite the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and the West Bank cities, the Israelis continue to operate military courts all over the Occupied Territories. The Gaza military court still functions today as well.
2 In many cases where the GSS cannot obtain a confession because the detainee kept silent, or where the GSS lacks sufficient evidence to bring charges, the detainee is not released but rather sent to administrative detention. The detention is then approved by another military judge and is extended periodically by the military commander upon the approval of the civil administration’s legal advisor.
3 Kremnitzer, Mordechai, ‘The Landau Commission Report — Was the Security Service Subordinated to the Law, or the Law to the ‘Needs’ of the Security Service?., Israel Law Review, Vol. 23, No. 2-3 1989, at 248.