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From the field

New report exposes ISA’s interrogation system at Shikma Prison: Routine abuse is official policy

Sleep deprivation; prolonged binding; verbal and sometimes physical abuse; exposure to cold and heat; little and substandard food; incarceration in a small, foul-smelling cell, usually in solitary confinement, for many days and in unhygienic conditions. A new report by human rights organizations HaMoked: Center for the Defence of the Individual and B’Tselem demonstrates that these are standard features of interrogation at the interrogation facility run by the Israel Security Agency (ISA) at Shikma Prison in Ashkelon, southern Israel. The report, Backed by the System, is being published today (Wednesday, 24 February). It gives a detailed account of the conditions in which inmates are held and interrogated, based on affidavits and witness accounts provided by 116 Palestinians held for security reasons and interrogated at the Shikma facility from August 2013 to March 2014. Nearly every single detainee was exposed to some or all of these measures. About one-third had been beaten or abused by soldiers or police officers in the course of being arrested; at least 14 were interrogated under torture by the Palestinian Authority shortly before being arrested by Israeli security forces.

Backed by the System: Abuse and Torture at the Shikma Interrogation Facility

Conditions at the Shikma facility are an inherent part of interrogations there: they serve to weaken both mind and body, complementing the actual interrogation of detainees in the interrogation room. The combination of conditions both in and outside the interrogation room constitutes abuse and inhuman, degrading treatment, at times even amounting to torture. It has been used systematically against Palestinians interrogated at Shikma, a practice that violates international law, the ruling by Israel’s High Court of Justice (HCJ), and basic moral standards.

Time and again, the detainees interviewed described unlawful conduct by the authorities. The descriptions bear a striking resemblance to accounts previously provided by detainees held at other interrogation facilities. Taken together, it would seem that this conduct constitutes official interrogation policy. Systematically implemented, the policy includes violence and degradation during arrest and interrogation; inhuman detention conditions that force detainees to endure crowding and filth; isolating detainees from the outside world and subjecting them to extreme sensory, motor, and social deprivation; provision of scant and substandard food; exposure to extremes of heat and cold; prolonged binding to a chair during interrogation, sometimes in exceedingly painful positions; extensive sleep deprivation; threats, swearing, shouting and mocking – and in some cases even direct violence by interrogators.

In addition to directly employing cruel, inhuman and degrading measures, Israeli interrogation authorities indirectly participate in torture by knowingly using information obtained through use of torture – usually cruel and severe – by Palestinian Authority interrogators against the self-same detainees.

The interrogation system that relies on these methods, both in overt interrogation and in the conditions in which detainees are held, was shaped by the state and is not the result of an initiative by a particular interrogator or prison guard. While the system is run by the ISA, a broad network of partners collaborates to facilitate it: The Israel Prison Service (IPS) creates prison conditions to match the interrogation plan designed to break a detainee’s spirit; IPS medical and mental health professionals greenlight the interrogation of Palestinians who arrive at the facility – including in cases of poor health – and even hand detainees back to the interrogators after caring for physical and mental injuries they sustained in interrogation; soldiers and police officers abuse detainees while transporting them to the ISA, with their commanders turning a blind eye and the MAG Corps and State Attorney’s Office not bringing them to justice or holding them fully accountable; military judges almost automatically sign off on motions for remand in custody and effectively sanction the continued abuse and inhuman conditions; the State Attorney’s Office and the Attorney General have thus far provided full immunity to ISA interrogators; and HCJ judges systematically reject petitions seeking to overturn the denial of detainee’s rights to meet with legal counsel. They are all party, in one form or another, to various aspects of the cruel, inhuman, degrading and abusive treatment to which Palestinian detainees are subjected at the Shikma facility and elsewhere.

We now reiterate once more the demand for what ought to be a given: Israel must immediately cease the use of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, as well as the abuse and torture of detainees, both in overt interrogation and through the conditions in which they are held. Moreover, Israel must abide by the prohibition on torture and abuse also in its cooperation on security matters with the Palestinian Authority.