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Important High Court Hearing on Torture

On Wednesday, January 13, a nine-judge panel of Israel's High Court of Justice will reconvene to continue consideration of a series of petitions concerning the legal basis for the methods

used by the General Security Service (GSS) in interrogations of Palestinians./>

The following
document provides background information about GSS interrogations and the petitions under discussion.

B'Tselem estimates, based on official sources, human rights organizations and attorneys, that the GSS interrogates between 1,000-1,500 Palestinians each year. Some
eighty-five percent of them - at least 850 persons a year - are subjected to methods which constitute torture. These methods include sleep deprivation for days and even weeks, tying-up in painful positions for lengthy periods, sensory deprivation by hooding and playing of loud music, compelling the detainee to kneel over on his toes, exposure to extremes of heat or cold, degradation and threats, and violent shaking.

In many cases, Palestinians are tortured in interrogation only to be released without charge. Alternatively, they may be given an administrative detention order, or charged only with minor offenses. The fact that these individuals are not charged with violent crimes following lengthy and abusive interrogations indicates that Israel manipulates the public's fears about "ticking bombs" to justify widespread torture of individuals who do not constitute a security threat.

United Nations expert bodies, including the Committee Against Torture and the Human Rights Committee, have determined that Israel's interrogation methods constitute torture. They have also reiterated that no exceptional circumstances can justify torture. The Committee's
conclusions did not affect Israeli practice and the use of these methods has continued.

On several occasions, Israel's High Court has allowed the use of physical force in interrogation, albeit only in interim decisions and in individual cases. In January 1998, the Court apparently decided to address the issue of GSS interrogation methods on the level of principle, rather than
continue the interim, ad hoc approach it had followed until then. The Court scheduled opening arguments regarding six petitions, all of which address issues related to the legality of the Landau Commission guidelines and the use of physical force in interrogations. The petitions were filed by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, HaMoked: Center for the Defence of the Individual and the Public Committee Against Torture. In May, the Court reconvened for a second session in which the State argued its case. The third session is scheduled for January 13 1999.

B'Tselem views with the utmost concern the possibility that the High Court could issue a judgement legalizing the use of interrogation methods that constitute torture. Such a decision would set a precedent as the first instance of a modern democratic state openly embracing the intentional infliction of severe pain as a legitimate tool of overnment. This precedent would undermine the carefully-built international consensus regarding the universal and absolute prohibition of torture.

B'Tselem will issue an update following the High Court session.