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From the field

Routine Torture: Interrogation Methods of the General Security Service

February 1998, Summary

On May 19 1998, B'Tselem released a report which presents an up-to-date and detailed picture of the interrogation methods used by the General Security Service (GSS). 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 report includes a detailed description of the methods, including extracts from testimonies and medical documents. The case of 'Omar Ghanimat, whose torture caused permanent disability, is presented as an example, including the High Court discussion of his case and the decision of the Department for the Investigation of Police not to take any measures against his interrogators.

The following are the principle 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

    Description: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.

    In many cases, the GSS add to and vary shabeh as follows: "Refrigerator" - exposing the interrogee to an air-conditioner shooting cold air directly at him.
    Standing shabeh - compelling the detainee to stand, his arms tied behind him and to a pipe
    affixed to the wall.
    Standing shabeh with the detainee's arms drawn backward and upward, so that the upper body
    is forced forward and down.

    Duration: The GSS generally uses shabeh for several days at a time, and with short breaks for several weeks at a time.

    Position of the State: The GSS and the State's Attorney's Office admit to using shabeh, at least "regular shabeh."
  3. Threats and Curses

    Description: Interrogators use this method during the interrogation itself. They 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 Position: 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 threats and curses.
  4. Qas'at a-Tawleh
    (Painful Stretching using a Table and Direct Pressure)

    Description: This method has been used with increasing frequency during the past two years. The method combines a painful position with the application of direct violence by the interrogator, and is used during the interrogation itself. 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.

    Duration: 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's Position: The State has not admitted to using this method and has not directly addressed itin 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")

    Description: The GSS uses this method during the interrogation itself. 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.

    Duration: Interrogators are liable to force the interrogee to remain in this position for hours, sometimes with breaks interspersed.

    The State's Position: The State admitted to using qambaz as an interrogation method for up to an hour each time.
  6. Violent Shaking

    Description: In this method, direct, potentially lethal, force is applied. It is used during the interrogation itself. 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.

    Duration: Violent shaking lasts for several seconds - up to five seconds according to testimonies - each time.

    The State's Position: 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

    Description: These violent methods are used during the interrogation. 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's Position: 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.