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From the field

A new report - "Routine Torture: Interrogation Methods of the GSS"

Today B'Tselem convened a press conference to present its new report: "Routine Torture: Interrogation Methods of the General Security Service". The press conference included a presentation in which actors demonstrated the various interrogation methods and Israeli actor Yossi Polak read testimonies of Palestinian interrogees.

The report comes one day after the UN Committee Against Torture reiterated its call to Israel to cease the use of painful interrogation methods, which constitute torture and ill-treatment in violation of the Convention Against Torture, to which Israel is a party. Tomorrow Israel's High Court of Justice, in a rare nine-judge panel, will hear a series of petitions concerning the principle and legal basis of GSS interrogation methods.

B'Tselem estimates, based on official sources, human rights organizations and attorneys, that the GSS annually interrogates between 1,000-1,500 Palestinians. Some eighty-five percent of them - at least 850 persons a year - are subjected to methods which constitute torture. The GSS and the State Attorney's Office rely on terrifying descriptions of "ticking bombs" to justify the use of torture. Often these descriptions are patently untrue. The report mentions
several cases where torture victims described as "ticking bombs" were eventually released with no legal procedures initiated against them. B'Tselem emphasizes however, that torture can never be justified, even in the fight against terrorism.

The report includes a detailed description of the methods, including extracts from testimonies. The case of 'Omar Ghanimat, whose torture caused permanent disability, is presented as an example, including medical documents, the High Court discussion of his case and the decision of the Department for the Investigation of Police Misconduct not to take any measures against his interrogators.

The following are the principle interrogation methods:

  1. Detention Conditions - Palestinian detainees are held in complete isolation from the outside world, in cramped and filthy conditions. They are not allowed to change clothes, even during interrogations that last months. They must eat with their hands in toilet stalls.
  2. Shabeh Combination -
    Shabeh is the combination of methods, used for prolonged periods, entailing sensory isolation, sleep deprivation, and infliction of pain. Regular shabeh entails shackling the detainee's hands and legs to a small chair, angled to slant forward so that the detainee cannot sit in a stable position. The interrogee's head is covered with an often filthy sack and loud music is played non-stop through loudspeakers. Detainees in shabeh are not allowed to sleep. Sleep deprivation is achieved by using the aforementioned methods and by having a guard wake up any detainee who dozes off. The GSS generally uses shabeh for several days at a time, and intermittently for several weeks at a time. The GSS and the State's Attorney's Office admit to using shabeh.

    Threats and Curses -
  3. Interrogators threaten to murder the interrogee, mentioning detainees who died during interrogation or detention, and to harm his relatives. Some of these threats are of a sexual nature. The State's Attorney tends to ignore complaints of threats and curses. However, in response to a compensation suit, the State recently acknowledged that interrogators use curses.

    Qas'at a-Tawleh - Painful Stretching using a Table and Direct Pressure -
  4. This method has been used with increasing frequency during the past two years. The interrogator compels the interrogee to kneel or sit down (on the floor or on the shabeh chair) in front of a table, with the detainee's back to the table. The interrogator places the interrogee's arms, bound and stretched behind him, on the table. The result is intense pain. Sometimes the interrogator sits on the table, his feet on the interrogee's shoulders, and pushes the interrogee's body forward, stretching his arms even more, or pulls his legs, creating the same painful effect.

    Interrogators are liable to force the interrogee to remain in this position for hours, with the interrogators adding the direct pressure at will. The State has not admitted to using this method and has not directly addressed it in its response to High Court petitions which included complaints of its use. However it has, as mentioned previously, admitted to applying pressure by compelling the interrogee to remain in various positions.

  5. Qambaz - the "Frog Position -
    The interrogator compels the interrogee to kneel on his toes, his arms tied behind him. If the interrogee falls, the interrogator forcefully compels him to return to the position, at times by beating and kicking him. Interrogators are liable to force the interrogee to remain in this position for hours, sometimes with breaks interspersed. The State admitted to using qambaz as an interrogation method for up to an hour each time.

  6. Violent Shaking - In this method, the interrogator grabs the interrogee, who is sitting or standing, by the lapels of his shirt, and shakes him violently, so that the interrogator's fists beat the chest of the interrogee, and his head is thrown backward and forward. Violent shaking lasts for several seconds - up to five seconds according to testimonies - each time.

    The state admits to using violent shaking as an interrogation method. In April 1995, 'Abd a-Samad Harizat died as a result of being violently shaken by GSS interrogators. Even though the state acknowledged this, and though it could not guarantee unequivocally that violent shaking would not cause deaths in the future, or even less severe injuries, it has continued to use this method.
  7. Slapping, Beating, Kicking and Causing Direct Pain by Use of Shackles -
    In addition to slapping, punching, and kicking, the interrogators tighten the shackles to cause pain greater than that normally suffered when remaining shackled for a prolonged period. One of these violent methods is where the GSS interrogator tightens the shackles and, grasping the shackles, drags the interrogee along the floor.

The State does not admit to using these methods. However, the Landau Commission also mentioned "a slap to the face" as being a legitimate interrogation technique.