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From the field

Torture During Interrogations: Testimony of Palestinian Detainees, Testimony of Interrogators

November 1994, Summary

The methods of interrogation used by the Israeli General Security Service (GSS) against Palestinian detainees were previously surveyed in four B'Tselem reports. In its 1991 comprehensive report on the subject, B'Tselem concluded that "according to all official criteria, these methods of interrogation ... belong to the category of torture."

This report provides an up-to-date picture of the GSS's and Israel Defense Force's interrogation methods. It includes testimony and affidavits of Palestinians interrogated by the GSS and IDF in recent months. The report also presents testimony of GSS agents given in the course of suppression hearings (mini- trials), which are held when the accused contends that a confession was extracted by unlawful means and is, therefore, inadmissible. When such a contention is made, the court interrupts the trial regarding the criminal charge and determines whether to sustain the accused's claim.

In one mini-trial, District Court Judge Moshe Talgam wrote in his decision of March 9, 1994 disallowing the confession of a Palestinian defendant:

"The interrogators testified, and completely denied that there had been any physical injury, but they admitted that the interrogations were lengthy, and that it was possible that the defendant was not allowed to rest for seventy-two hours [...] I have no doubt that under the system in which interrogators rotate, and interrogate the defendant for twenty-four hours consecutively once, and for nearly forty- eight hours consecutively a second time, the interrogee experiences very great suffering" (Mini-trial in Criminal File 201/93).

The U.N. Convention Against Torture, ratified by Israel, defines "torture" as "any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person..." (Art. 1)

In citing the language of the Convention Against Torture, the Israel District Court joined a long list of human rights organizations that have stated in recent years that the methods of interrogation used by the GSS constitute, at least in their cumulative effect over time, torture according to the criteria employed by the international community.

As this report reveals, sleep deprivation is only one of numerous methods which the GSS admits using. The GSS admits to routinely employing methods that degrade and humiliate detainees, impair their physical and mental health, and cause them great pain.

Testimonies of Palestinians, as well as testimonies by GSS agents and police officers, confirm that the following interrogation methods continue to be used by the security forces when interrogating Palestinians:

  1. Insults and abuse
  2. Threats to harm the detainee or his family
  3. Sleep and food deprivation
  4. Covering the head with a sack for hours, and even days
  5. Imprisoning the detainee in solitary confinement, sometimes while in a painful position
  6. Tying up the detainee for extended periods in painful positions
  7. Use of collaborators to extract information or a confession, by or with the threat of violence
  8. Forced physical exercise
  9. Imprisonment under extreme heat, cold or filth
  10. Severe blows to the body with fists, sticks and other instruments

Notwithstanding recent political developments in the region, it is difficult to discern any improvement regarding interrogation methods. The habitual use of torture in the interrogation of Palestinians continues.

Of the nine Palestinians who were interviewed for this report, seven were released without any criminal charges being filed against them, one was sentenced to seven months in prison, and one is still awaiting trial. The repeated claim that "pressure" was used against detainees because of the need to prevent murderous attacks is a mere pretext in these cases; the same is true of the overwhelming majority of cases in which detainees are tortured. In any event, the interrogation methods are inconsistent with the categorical prohibition of torture.

The report also includes a brief analysis of the interrogation of Jewish settlers suspected of activities in the "Underground" organization.

In November 1994, the Ministerial Committee on GSS Matters decided to permit GSS interrogators to use additional methods of pressure during interrogations of Palestinians.

B'Tselem is of the opinion that not only are additional methods unwarranted, but that the use of any method contrary to international law must be prohibited. The government of Israel must take urgent steps that will put an end, once and for all, to the torture of detainees under interrogation.