On February 7, Israel’s Supreme Court rejected a petition submitted by several NGOs and human rights organizations, says a press release from Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel. The petition called on the court to cancel an exemption in a law that opens the door for state security services and police forces to employ interrogation practices that violate human rights.
Adalah, Physicians for Human Rights in Israel, the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, and Al-Mezan submitted a joint petition that called for the cancellation of “a sweeping exemption in a law that allows police and General Security Services (GSS) (Shin Bet/Shabak) not to make audio or video recordings of their interrogations of suspected security offenders.”
Justice Asher Gronis dismissed the petition on the grounds that the exemption in question is supposed to be replaced with an alternative by 2015 and is presently under legal examination. Though the Knesset must amend the law, he said, “The legal text is under examination. Half a year has passed since the last amendment, during which time a new Knesset was elected. It is therefore necessary to wait until the law is amended.”
The decision flies in the face of previous suggestions, such as the findings of the Turkel Committee, which found that the state security services ought to make audio and visual recordings of interrogations. Additionally, the former head of the GSS, Yuval Diskin, has said “he was in favor of recording interrogations.”
Although recording is mandated under The Criminal Act Procedure, an exemption allows security agencies like the Shin Bet to interrogate suspects without recording if the suspect is a “security threat.” The text, however, does not specify what qualifies a suspect as a “security threat.”
Israel security agencies say that they oppose recording interrogations in order to keep private “special interrogation techniques.” Adalah and the other organizations, however, argue that this is a grave violation of the basic rights of suspects, who are supposed to be considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.
A history of torture
The primary concern is that the exemption essentially permits the Shin Bet, Shabbak, and Israeli Police to use torture on suspects. The petition argues that Israel has an obligation under international law to “take measures to prevent acts of torture,” pointing to the UN Convention Against Torture.
According to the press release, Israel “stands in violation of article 11 of the UN CAT, according to which each state party “shall keep under systematic review interrogation rules, instructions, methods and practices as well as arrangements for the custody and treatment of persons subjected to any form of arrest, detention or imprisonment in any territory under its jurisdiction, with a view to preventing any cases of torture.’”
Torture was only banned by the Supreme Court in 1999, before having been a legal method of interrogation. “Since the Supreme Court’s decision, and especially since the outbreak of the al-Aqsa Intifada, various public officials have called for legislation to allow torture during interrogations,” says B’Tselem, an Israel human rights organization. The organization accuses the state of systematically ignoring torture complaints and failing to investigate them as required under international law.
“From the beginning of 2001 to the end of March 2011, more than seven hundred complaints alleging ISA abuse of interrogees [were] filed with the State Attorney’s Office. The State Attorney’s Office did not order a criminal investigation into any of the complaints.”
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