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The Death of Mustafa Barakat in the Interrogation Wing of the Tulkarm Prison

September 1992, Summary

Mustafa Barakat, a young Palestinian 23 years of age, was arrested in full health, and died from an asthma attack less than 36 hours later, in the interrogations wing on the Tulkarm prison.

The following conclusions emerge from this report, and from other information gathered by B'Tselem:

  1. The interrogations wing in which Barakat was held is controlled and supervised exclusively by the GSS. The prison commander, legally responsible for the facility, cannot stipulate what GSS personnel who operate on the grounds of the prison facility did or did not do. The interrogation rooms in the wing are closed to the commander of the prison and his staff, including the physician in charge.

  2. In the interrogations wing where Barakat was held, violent measures, some of which constitute torture, are still employed. It is reasonable to assume that some of these measures were used against Barakat at least on his first day there.

  3. In accordance with prison procedure, Barakat was formally inducted into the prison after being examined by a medic, and his interrogation began at that point. During the first interrogation, Barakat had an asthma attack. Only the next day was he given a routine examination by a physician, in which he was certified as fit for detention.

  4. Certification of a detainees's fitness for imprisonment included certification for interrogation. In light of the formal sanction given to interrogators to use violence, the medical staff in effect certified Barakat's fitness for violent interrogation.

  5. As stated, a physician is forbidden from entering GSS interrogation rooms. Thus, it was impossible for the physician in charge to properly monitor Barakat's health.

  6. It should be noted that the fatal attack occurred very shortly after the conclusion of the last interrogation session (45 minutes at the most). Barakat had not suffered from asthma for many years.

The case of Mustafa Barakat is conspicuous because it ended in death. Yet its circumstances are in no way unusual. Everything that happened to Barakat, from his imprisonment until his death, was in the framework of routine procedure. Mustafa Barakat had a special susceptibility and he did not survive.

Routine procedure includes imprisonment without contact with the outside world for two weeks, the absolute prohibition on persons from outside the system from visiting interrogation wings, the extensive freedom of activity afforded the interrogators, the formal sanction for use of violence in interrogation, and the lack of clarity regarding realms of authority and jurisdiction between the prison authorities, the GSS and the physicians. The role of the medical staff also raises difficult questions of medical ethics. These conditions, combined, create a situation in which the security and health of those interrogated is by no means ensured, in absolute contradiction to the requirements of international and Israeli law.

Since the beginning of the Intifada, until September 1992, there had been four cases in which Palestinians had died during or soon after interrogation.

This report endeavors to give a step-by-step account of what happened to Mustafa Barakat during the 36 hours which passed between his arrest and his decease, and addresses the difficult issues raised by the circumstances of his death.